Album review: Kings of Leon, Mechanical Bull (Columbia)

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Anyone who expected the Followills’s sixth album to reignite what first fired them up as a band of brothers (plus cousin) hadn’t reckoned on the limiting matter of their mutation into a stadium brand.

In a position to reinvent or reinvigorate themselves after their 2009-10 troubles – recalcitrant Reading crowds, tours blown, pigeons shitting on their stages – the Kings have played safer: they’ve regressed so much that Mechanical Bull is practically, a career precis.

That’s fine for the low-slung opening salvo, where “Supersoaker” and T-Rex-meets-Guns’n’Roses thruster “Don’t Matter” dish pell-mell proof that the good-ol’-boys-let-loose of 2003 are still in there. By track four, though, it sounds like the arrival of a whopping tax bill has reminded the group that payday lies the way of renewed reverb-pedal abuse – and the stadium trappings that consumed their post-2008 output return. If “Beautiful War” is just a mullet away from late-1980s U2, the soppy “Wait for Me” gives away the comparison with Caleb’s chest-puffing, Bono-patented “Wooo-ooh-hoo-oo”.

The problem with these gutsy ballads isn’t just that they lay bare some more-silly-than-usual lyrics, though “I walk a mile in your shoes/ Now I’m a mile away/ And I’ve got your shoes” is quite the side-buster. It’s the self-preserving hint of calculation that grates, whether on the Snow-play siren-call guitar chimes of “On the Chin” or the headline-fishing words of “Comeback Story”.

Whatever they say, this isn’t the “comeback story of a lifetime”: it’s the low-risk  re-entry bid of a band who know where their bread is buttered.

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