Kings Of Leon – Mechanical Bull

Mechanical Bull (2013)

C+ 

1. Supersoaker 2. Rock City 3. Don’t Matter 4. Beautiful War 5. Temple 6. Wait For Me 7. Family Tree 8. Comeback Story 9. Tonight 10. Coming Back Again 11. On The Chin

 

Hop back aboard the Douchebag Train, everybody! And make haste – the Followills desperately need your ridership these days. After all, they pretty much derailed themselves, gruesomely killing many of the fans on board, with the utter shit Come Around Sundown, public drunken asshattery, and resultant inter-band turmoil that seems lifted directly from a pre-written, generic Behind The Music script template. And you know what that means! Yup, KOL are pushing the “comeback album” angle hard with their sixth LP, Mechanical Bull, marketing it as definitive proof that Caleb finally stopped preening and giving himself liver damage for long enough to write a few decent songs for the first time in years.

So, is the marketing accurate? Not really, but regardless about how one as a listener may feel about the record’s quality, Mechanical Bull can at least be said to be something of a divergence from, rather than a continuation of, the poisonous path KOL had been forging for themselves with Only By The Night and Come Around Sundown. Don’t get too excited, though, because that change-up doesn’t involve the band trying anything new—not in the least—but rather sees them desperately retracing their steps, trying to remember what it was that ever made them good in the first place. These overtures mainly consist of them giving up trying to revive the 80s, as they had been doing on their last two albums, and returning to mimicking their favorite 70s bands like they did earlier in their career (although the cheesy late-period Aerosmith-style album cover would seem to indicate otherwise). Some of their attempts at this are more appealing than others. For example, opener and lead single “Supersoaker,” with its frantic, ringing rhythm guitar, yearning chord sequence, and throaty Caleb vocal, constitutes the first instance I can think of since “Sex On Fire” came out of these guys sounding like they’re the same band who wrote “The Bucket” some years back. Of course, that band would have probably traded the new tune’s cottony vocal/guitar/bells hook for something a little grimier, but considering the fact that attempted radio friendliness has become a prerequisite for basically everything KOL records these days, I can live with it, and it goes down easily enough (despite the gross lyric “Good vibrations all over you.” That Caleb sure hasn’t lost his talent to write the most unsexy innuendo imaginable!). Conversely, the pissed-off “Don’t Matter” and its wall of grumbling, processed guitars sounds like it came straight off Because Of The Times, and as a result rings in with no competition whatsoever as the catchiest, rockingest song they’ve done since they put that record out in 2007.

Unfortunately, the remaining attempts at rekindling past glories are not nearly as enjoyable. Any potential the limpid cock rock of “Rock City” might have had is marred immediately by Caleb’s horribly grating, literally one-note vocal performance and “Sex On Fire”-style lyrical idiocy (“I was searching for a woman who was willing to love/So I could take her like a woman/Yeah take her like a woman.” YEAH YOU GO SLAM THAT PUSSY CALEB). “Family Tree” actually does get some mileage out of its funky bassline and comfortable 70s AOR-style chorus, but eventually also descends into buffoonery with a goofy gang vocal gimmick.

The next tier of songs on Mechanical Bull is composed of dull-as-dishwater ballads “From the Men Who Brought You ‘Use Somebody’!” (“Wait For Me,” “Beautiful War,” “On The Chin”). Still, compared to the laughably overwrought attempts to create tension (“Tonight,” “Coming Back Again”), they’re at least tasteful. Those two cuts are as uncatchy and virtually featureless as anything on Come Around Sundown – though on the bright side, the thrash-y sixteenth note bassline in “Coming Back Again” is so brutally misused that it’s actually kind of funny. It’s also one of a string of indications on Mechanical Bull that whatever spark KOL once had probably isn’t coming back anytime soon. Sure, the record shows that, when they try hard enough, they’re capable of proving that the years of arena whoredom haven’t completely obliterated their sense of good taste. But they do seem to have taken an inescapable toll on their ability to smoothly execute their remaining good ideas without having to resort to writing weak swill to fill up their album running times. And man, if Mechanical Bull is the best they can do when they devote maximum effort to trying not to suck… well, let’s just say I’m not looking forward to hearing what happens if they get lazy again.



One Comment

  1. victoid wrote:

    Maybe the album title is actually confessional. They may agree with your scornful assessment.

    mechanical, adjective
    3: happening or done without thought or without any effort to be different or interesting
    bull, noun
    1: a grotesque blunder in language
    2: slang : empty boastful talk
    3: slang : nonsense

    I have a friend who only will listen to good, hard rock (and shitty oldies from the 60’s). Just after the turn of the century he told me about a band he had just seen in a small club in NYC. He said they were hard driving rockers with an infectious enthusiasm and a repertoire that made an old rocker weep with joy.
    Best new band he had seen in years, he said. Guess who? Yep- these same Kings, now hollowed out pretenders to their own throne. What a waste!


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