Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night

Only By The Night (2008)

C

1. Closer 2. Crawl 3. Sex On Fire 4. Use Somebody 5. Manhattan 6. Revelry 7. Seventeen 8. Notion 9. I Want You 10. Be Somebody 11. Cold Desert

 

Well, this marks the second time they’ve put something that looks like a vagina on an album cover, and, much like the music found within, the joke’s getting real fucking old and predictable. I gotta hand it to these guys… Only By The Night may suck as a legitimate rock record, but it’s an exemplary model for how to manipulate an audience with shallow musical tastes. On it, KOL display just the right combination of musical genericism, glossy sex appeal, and blatant pandering to get pubescent white girls wet for Caleb Followill’s rasp. Which evidence shows is exactly what KOL intended this record to be. I mean, you can tell they went: “it’s 2008, and vampires are cool… let’s make a fuckin’ song about vampires!” The result of this calculation is “Closer,” which starts with the most impossibly stupid line ever written into a song—“stranded in this spooky town”—and only gets worse from there, descending into what is essentially Twilight fanfiction. Guffaw if you must and say Caleb must have had tongue well in cheek when writing it, but listen to him sing it with the most intense, pained sincerity he can muster and tell me he wasn’t dead serious about it. Beneath his junior high dribblings is a morose feedback-driven drone piece that I think might’ve been interesting with a less inane singer, but we ain’t never gonna find out if I’m right. The same can’t be said of the once-ubiquitous hit single “Sex On Fire,” which is just pure stupidity all around. If the 80s synths and guitar riffs and HIGH DRAMA chorus stolen from a Don Johnson album aren’t enough to make you recoil, the appallingly straightforward lyrics will… think about what kind of a guy would think that “hey, your sex is on fire” is a sexy thing to say to a girl, if you can even wrap your mind around the possibility of such a person over the age of 12 existing. Then realize that Caleb Followill is that kind of guy.

Generally speaking, Only By The Night comprises toothless arena rock music that ranges from generic to embarrassingly cheesy, all of which is made ten times worse by atrocious lyrics and vocal performances. No longer obscuring all his lines in that weird swamp person dialect, Caleb is now belting out nearly every word as loud as his raspy pipes will let him. Needless to say, this is pretty much the worst career move the guy could’ve made as far as keeping people who thought he had any talent at all—myself included—from realizing what a hack he is. All his songs are about the same goddamn thing: “Hey, baby, I’m the manliest man there is, but I’ll pretend to be sensitive and romantic and crap if you suck my dick for two and a half minutes! That’s all I’ll need! And then I’ll forget about you right after, cuz I’m a MAN!” I mean, “Use Somebody”? An unbearably corny power ballad made for the closing credits of The Bold And The Beautiful if I ever heard one. There are two kinds of universal pop songs in the world: timeless ones that make the whole world sing, and boilerplate tunes that play it so safe that they don’t offend the world’s scores of vanilla-loving casual music fans and become hits by default. “Use Somebody” is a perfect example of this latter classification. You’ll hear these types of songs for two or three years everywhere you go, since everybody from American Idol contestants to this Larry The Cable Guy lookalike asshole I saw in a tourist trap bar in Nashville will start singing them. But then, soon enough, you’ll forget about them until forty years later when they get vintage enough to start being played on oldies stations. Frankly I don’t think forty years will be enough time for me to get over how sick I am of this fucking song.

God, it would help if the rest of the band were doing much of anything interesting to distract me from Caleb’s horseshit, but unfortunately they aren’t up to the task. Matthew’s crunchy Dave Davies licks are long gone; he now seems incapable of playing a solo without going into non-rocking effects-laden convulsions. The attempts at musical diversity—so whitewashed that they can’t even accurately be classified as “diverse”—are total duds—the stilted, stiff funk of “Manhattan,” “I Want You,” discordant attempt at a loose beach party groove that at certain points just sounds like they’re banging on random objects they found at the garbage dump and not worrying if the result sounds musical or not—and the straight rock songs are no better. “Notion” and “Be Somebody” sound like they were stamped right out of a computer program created by the Edge to write arena rock songs.

So… is there anything salvageable about this pile of crap aside from all the goddamn cloying melodies that will stick in your head whether you want them there or not? The pickings are slim. Rocker “Crawl” has typically abominable lyrics—something about “the reds, the whites, and abused” that amounts to one of the most banal, poorly written political statements I’ve ever heard in music—but at least it’s got that loud ass fuzz bass for me to rock out to. Similarly, I could see myself nodding off in a pleasant state of mind to almost country-tinged ballad “Revelry” if I were able to block out Caleb going about how he’s “a dancing machine” (goddamn, is this album a repository of the worst opening lines ever or what? There may be a few good lines hidden somewhere in the second verses of some of these tunes, but after the clunkers Caleb almost uniformly starts the songs out with I can’t bring myself to pay enough attention to find out). Finally, the album closes with “Cold Desert,” which, despite being a rewrite of Because Of The Times’ “Arizona,” is pretty much the only song here with any heart. Sure, it uses a false fade out at the end, and “Helter Skelter” notwithstanding, those are almost always annoying, but as Caleb finds himself “standing on the corner, waiting for the light to come on,” I can actually feel something besides, “the only thing this guy loves more than money and groupies is himself.”



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