Album: Kings of Leon

Aha Shake Heartbreak, HANDMEDOWN
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The Independent Culture

Kings of Leon's debut album Youth and Young Manhood was one of last year's most unusual successes, coming from nowhere to swiftly shift a whopping half a million copies in the UK alone - a turbo-boosted rise in popularity achieved without the kind of blanket media coverage afforded the various Pop Idol and Fame Academy flops.

Kings of Leon's debut album Youth and Young Manhood was one of last year's most unusual successes, coming from nowhere to swiftly shift a whopping half a million copies in the UK alone - a turbo-boosted rise in popularity achieved without the kind of blanket media coverage afforded the various Pop Idol and Fame Academy flops.

The success was all the more surprising for the similarities claimed between the Followill family and Southern boogie bands of an earlier era, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, an ignominious association that might have killed any band's prospects stone dead. The comparison failed to take into account the punkish urgency of their music. As Aha Shake Heartbreak suggests, a more rewarding route of influence might involve Creedence Clearwater Revival, particularly if crossed with the new wave energy of, say, Television.

This is most immediately apparent on the opening track "Slow Night, So Long", about groupies - "gold-digging mothers" presuming themselves "too good to tango with the poor, poor boys" - a line that recallsCreedence's "Down On The Corner". It's a typically Leonine bout of trenchant riffing, the two guitar lines circling warily like boxers sizing each other up, while the pirouetting bass line plays referee - the very formula that proved so startling on Television's Marquee Moon.

The album was written, claims Caleb Followill, after18 months of touring, and reflects the nerve-frazzling impact of such a protracted round of playing, promotion and partying. The songs are full of frayed tempers, drunken lasciviousness and world-weariness, delivered over a piercing chug'n'chime clamour of guitars whose chunky tightness bears witness to the band's endless performance schedule.

Caleb's distinctive drawl is more idiosyncratic than ever here, breaking lines up into sly syllables on the lusty "Taper Jean Girl", and slipping into a falsetto yodel on the chorus to "Day Old Blues", a self-portrait that finds him claiming, "Girls are gonna love the way I toss my hair, and boys are gonna hate the way I sing." Although frankly, when the results are as engaging as the way he wraps his tongue around the phrase "salty leave" in "Milk", there's scant cause for annoyance just yet.

The new single, "The Bucket", is the most directly appealing and anthemic track. The undercurrent of latent violence in the verbal stand-off between an antagonist's "switchblade posse" and the band's "guns from the south" in "Four Kicks" is filtered through a poetic redneck sensibility in the ensuing "Velvet Snow", where Caleb's lyrics bristle with a rural-bohemian feel, like a backwoods variant on the snooty hipster urbanity of such as Sonic Youth. Except that the Kings know how to swing as hard as they rock.

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