Review: Kings of Leon, Walls

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Part of me wants to cut this one some slack because the early teenage version of me, the skinny kid whose favorite band was Counting Crows, would probably have enjoyed it a lot. At this point, though, I fear I’ve grown jaded with radio-ready alternative rock. This album is too clean, even though I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it on a technical level. The production is crisp (if a little tinny; it’s hard to imagine that Markus Dravs is the same man responsible for the warm soundscapes of Björk’s Homogenic). The drums play on beat. The guitars are in tune. The singer hits all the right notes. Does that faint praise sound robotic? Wait till you hear the album. It might as well be music from a future dystopia where humans are no longer a necessary component of the artistic process. If you woke up from a 20-year-coma and this was the first album you listened to, you’d be justified in assuming that music hadn’t evolved one bit in that span.

I know, I know: I’m supposed to be reviewing this album, not roasting it. But what else is there to do when an album makes me feel precisely zero emotion? I don’t hate Walls, not really, but that’s because I can’t bring myself to have any strong opinion on it. Even the individual songs are difficult to comment on. “Waste a Moment” is a decent choice for the lead single with its fast pace and catchy chorus, but it could have been easily interchanged with any of the other songs here, which all possess those same qualities (apart from maybe “Conversation Piece”, which is a more effective sleep aid than most ambient music). “Over” gets a good groove going, but I can’t get over the way Caleb Followill sings the phrase “the boys of NYU” toward the beginning. Every time I try to say something positive about the album, I feel the need to qualify it with a “but” statement, but every time I try to say something decisively negative, I have the same compulsion. See? I just did it there.

I think this album broke me as a reviewer. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard something that resides so squarely in the middle of the road, or that fades into the background so quickly. If this brand of safe, comfortable alt-rock is your personal cup of tea, then by all means, give Walls a listen. (You probably already have.) Your taste is just as valid as mine, and there’s obviously an audience for this sort of thing (the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, after all). I just can’t think of any circumstance where I’d want to listen to this instead of something else—anything else. Nobody’s asking Kings of Leon to reinvent the wheel here, but they could at least make their hubcaps a bit flashier. C MINUS