opinion by BENJI TAYLOR
In the early days the Followills’ back-story seemed too good to be true, in a White Stripes “siblings” kind-of way… Three brothers and a cousin, a defrocked alcoholic Pentecostal father. Rock and roll histories didn’t come much more interesting, and they backed it up with their solid synthesis of southern fried garage rock and roll that, though it was far from revolutionary, captured the sound of youthful intemperance in a way that few of their peers could muster.
When did things start to go wrong for the Kings? A few incidents spring to mind – “Pigeongate”, when the Followhills left the stage because they were worried that a bunch of flying rats would shit in their mouths. Or the ludicrous “Radioactive” video, with the band preposterously prancing round with a bunch of grinning kids against the backdrop of an African sun. Despite all that though, and the hiatus and band implosion that followed it, they’re back with album number six Mechanical Bull, and it would take a serious case of schadenfreude to want them to fail after watching them teeter on the edge of the abyss.
Lead single and opener “Supersoaker” sounds promising – a mash of whisky-sodden yelps and yowls, jangling guitars and skyscraping hooks. It’s subtly anthemic but not overly contrived, sounding as if perhaps they’ve toned down the overt stadium-rock pretensions that marred Come Around Sundown.
Sadly its a clever misdirection. The Followills are keen to self-mythologize Mechanical Bull as the comeback story of a lifetime, but in truth it’s barely a comeback story of any note at all. It often devolves into Kings of Leon landfill – the sound of a band plodding along on autopilot. “Rock City” is a highlight with its filthy funk fueled guitar licks, but the cliched talk about deserts and drugs is instantly forgettable. “Don’t Matter” descends into pure pastiche, with Caleb’s vocals sounding particularly limp and lacklustre. “It don’t matter to me…” he implores, and its difficult not to agree with him. “Beautiful War” and “Wait For Me” pass by without consequence, music to water the flowers to. There’s just none of the urgency, balls and drive that made any of the first three albums essential LPs to listen to.
Rockstars grow up, yes, we understand. But when they do so at the expense of the spark that made us fall in love with them in the first place then it shatters the illusory transient love that exists between artist and fan. It’s all too obvious throughout Mechancial Bull that the Followills have traded in their stash of hard liqueur and pharmaceuticals for baby powder mix, and swapped their marlboro reds for e-cigs and nicotine patches. A band once feral with ambition now seem happy to coast along on cruise control without any sparkle or shimmer. Mechanical Bull is the sound of Kings of Leon de-fanged, de-crowned, and de-throned, further evidence of their inexorable slide towards artistic irrelevance. [C-]