Kings Of Leon – Because Of The Times

Because Of The Times (2007)


1. Knocked Up 2. Charmer 3. On Call 4. McFearless 5. Black Thumbnail 6. My Party 7. True Love Way 8. Ragoo 9. Fans 10. The Runner 11. Trunk 12. Camaro 13. Arizona


The Followills drop the down home Joe Schmoe “horny and hairy” act and make a power play. They sure as hell ain’t bothering with trying to sound Southern or stripped down anymore… this stuff could have come out of anyplace that has a basketball arena with 20,000 seats in which to put butts whose owners want nothing more than to drink $9 Bud Light and go “woooo!” as reverb-drenched major guitar chords emanating from a stage quarter of mile away from their seats wash over their ears. Because Of The Times is all Music for Big Rooms, no doubt about it, but unlike with the shallow, lightweight hogwash they would begin churning amount almost immediately after this, on this record, KOL actually sound like they mean what they’re doing for once. There’s real passion here – and the songs to back it up.

OK, sure, it does sound like their writing process for this album was to sit down, listen to a few U2 records, and in so doing realizing that they could get away with writing two choruses and stretching them out into a fifty minute album. Seriously, every chorus is incredibly obvious and pretty much exactly the fucking same. All they’ve got is the “hey, if we go from a I to a IV chord and play really loud, it will sound really huge and cathartic!” (“McFearless,” “Fans,” “The Runner”) and the “hey, if we go from a I to a minor vi chord, 12-year old girls in prep schools who have never listened to anything darker than My Chemical Romance will like us because they will think our angst is deep and painful!” (“On Call,” “True Love Way,” “Ragoo,” and literally almost every other song on here). It’s formula, it’s predictable… but it doesn’t necessarily sound predictable. Stylistically, as eagerly as these guys take to adopting arena rock formula, there’s still something quirky and idiosyncratic about their songwriting. I mean, “Black Thumbnail” uses only one chord almost all the way through and relies almost entirely on volume and reverb to attain its desired effect, but it’s still probably the most powerful rock song they’ve ever done. And it’s not because of those spiraling guitar solos that seem to yearn to reach the rafters of Madison Square Garden. No, it’s because, even though Caleb sounds much more full throated than he ever did on the previous two records, I still can’t understand a fucking word he’s singing. If Bono sang this song, he would make sure you could understand every word of his VERY IMPORTANT song about a tree he planted to help the starving children in Africa and how it symbolizes his giant dick or something. Without the God complex, the song both subverts and satisfies my expectations for a song of this nature. I like that.

No way I’m giving Caleb all the credit for this album’s successes, though. In fact, he deserves very little. I shall now proceed to give props to the two band members who deserve them most: Jared “I look like a cast member of the MTV program I Just Want My Pants Back” Followill and Matthew “I just look like a monkey” Followill, both of whom show themselves to be very talented musicians. Who’d a thunk? I’m not ashamed to say I think Matthew is a pretty great guitar player and was easily the star of the first two KOL records. Now no longer constrained by the limits of roots rock, he bought himself a couple of fancy guitar pedals and cranked the reverb and volume up to eleven. But tone isn’t the limit to his change in style – he shows some real versatility, from the heavy, proto-punk dissonant riffage of “Charmer” and mediocre lead single “On Call” to his fast, bright arpeggios on the reggae-ish pop of “Ragoo” to the giddily whining riff of “Camaro,” which would make a fine Stones song, if you ask me.

Jared, on the other hand, took time to develop on his instrument, having been 16 and all when Youth & Young Manhood came out. But a lot of these songs, if not the majority, sound like they were built off of his basslines rather than a guitar riff (the caustic fuzz rocker “My Party”). On the 7-minute “Knocked Up,” his three-note groove provides the steady foundation for Matthew’s echoey, atmospheric harmonics; in tandem, the bass and the lead guitar create a real sonic landscape with all the space and feel of an empty highway at the break of dawn. Caleb’s defiant baby daddy lyrics have all the insight on the song’s subject as an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, so unsurprisingly KOL has to rely on the music to keep the song interesting and evocative throughout its epic length… in that, they succeed. It certainly helps that when it gets to the crunchy part, they don’t just plug in one of their two aforementioned pre-written, Bono-approved choruses (minor vi to a major II? Holy crap! These guys are geniuses! Eat shit, Beethoven!). I get a similar sense of atmosphere from the mid-tempo closer “Arizona” and drunken acoustic waltz “The Runner” (it’s got the big electric chorus, of course. Don’t worry). Again, I get the feeling that there’s real meaning and emotion behind these songs, even if I can barely understand what any of the words are. Which is probably for the best, considering that the snatches I can pick up are mostly generic self-absorbed arena hero “I’m the MAN!” posturing.

There was a time when I would’ve given Because Of The Times a much higher grade, but time has made me less tolerant of predictable arena rock choruses (not to mention Caleb Followill). But I still love the crunchy guitars and the groovy ass basslines and the fact that for a fleeting moment, Kings Of Leon seemed like they were more than Just Another Band. A band whose ambition was to make great records – not just popular ones.

One Comment

  1. Robin wrote:

    I love most of this album, The Runner being my favorite song. Too me, it has no pretensions, just a bunch of guys trying to make a good record. The mostly do. Maybe they are asses but I can listen to that scratchy voice all day.

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