The hirsute country rockers the Kings of Leon come with the kind of story that causes record companies to start bleeding money. Three brothers and a cousin, all aged between 16 and 23, they were raised as travelling Pentecostals and dragged from Memphis to Oklahoma City and just about everywhere in between by their defrocked preacher daddy, Leon Followill, who also happened to be an alcoholic. Along the way, they slept in cars, trailers and churches and were tutored by whoever was along for the ride. Given that the Followills never owned a television or radio, the boys' musical education came via the living-rooms, churches and backroom bars that they stopped in on their travels. A little more than a year ago, they came to the attention of The Strokes' A&R man and Ryan Adams's producer, Ethan Johns, who, one presumes, thought all his Christmases had come at once and signed them up without a second thought.
Blending the sounds of The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Johnny Thunders, the Followills have formulated a set of moonshine-slugging, larynx-lacerating, lowdown and dirty tunes that will doubtless put them, in commercial terms, exactly where The Strokes were two years ago. The difference between the two bands is that the Kings of Leon are actually good.
Like The White Stripes before them (on their website, they cite Jack and Meg as inspiration), the Followills have studiously ignored the musical developments of the past 30 years; their music has a vintage quality, like a dusty old 78 rescued from the attic. An unwholesome collision of AC/DC's Bon Scott and Creedence's John Fogerty, the 21-year-old Caleb Followill sings in a gnarly, snarly drawl redolent of a man of three times his age and experience. Their songs come replete with tales of murderers, transvestites and - of course - preachermen on the road to ruin.
The band are now based in Tennessee, and the good-time, whiskey-soaked blues and country of the Deep South permeates every song. The opening track, "Red Morning Light", arrives like a club to the back of the head with its abrasive punk-rock riff, before morphing into an infectious blues-rock number; "Joe's Head", with its laid-back guitar hooks and slurred delivery, staggers along like a drunk crawling on his hands and knees, in search of another bottle of whiskey, while "Molly Chambers" is a seedy ode to a local femme fatale. Although the Kings of Leon have rejected their Christian upbringing, religion is ever-present - "The Lord's gonna get us back, I know, I know," Caleb rasps in "Holy Roller Novocaine". Youth & Young Manhood is a record that sounds both old and new, steeped in history yet blissfully unaware of its own significance. Buy it. You won't hear anything else like it.