Only by the Night review by Kings of Leon

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  • Released: Sep 23, 2008
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.6 (101 votes)
Kings of Leon: Only by the Night
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Sound — 7
From the outset - the effect-heavy Closer, with it's expansive, creepy atmosphere - it is clear that Kings of Leon have moved on. Long gone are the days of Youth and Young Manhood, the raw Southern rock album released when the youngest of the band (bassist Jared) was just fifteen. Their evolution has been clear ever since: with both subsequent albums, they became more polished, growing further from their Pentecostal origins. If Closer is the result, then they have stretched their wings further than most thought possible. The three brothers and a cousin, who grew up with the obligatory Southern back story - their father was a preacher, their childhoods spent moving from town to town - have been nothing in their career thus far if not honest. Whether it was the drug-fuelled whine of Soft or the grubby Spiral Staircase, they have never attempted to dress up their less glamorous attributes in anything other than skinny jeans. A promotion strategy for this album involves a new Home Video appearing on their website showing the band and crew at home and in the studio, every day in September prior to the release date. This under-publicised move exposes the not inconsiderable egos at work behind the album: lead singer and lyricist Caleb in particular appears fragile and belligerent, sensitive and self-aware. They have always been served best by this prickly honesty, their willingness to appear unchanged and unvarnished in front of their fans; this stadium-rock album, then, is most at risk of losing that vital authenticity and slipping too far into U2 territory. Crawl does not restore faith at that level. The lyrics even become political at one point, though only in the vaguest possible sense: The reds, the whites and abused/The crucified USA. While the band - particularly Jared - have been laudably vocal in their support for the Democratic party and for young people voting in general, these lines are neither inspiring nor particularly coherent. It is up to the next track, the cringingly-titled number one single Sex on Fire, to bring Kings of Leon back onto more familiar territory, which they predictably and satisfyingly stomp all over.

Lyrics — 9
Caleb's best lyrics thus far have been the low-key expressions of solitude and uncertainty from KoL's latest two albums, Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times. Use Somebody forms a highlight of the album for the same reason. While the heart of the track lies in its understated lyrics and exquisitely tortured performance from Caleb, the quality of the sound cannot possibly be ignored, from its sweeping backing vocals and symphonic guitar to its powerfully musical bass line and technically stunning drum fills. It is difficult to dislike even the less striking tracks here: Manhattan becomes more charming at each listen, with its basic but endearing lyrics: We're gonna show this town how to kiss these stars. Again the musicianship is obvious in the warm, melodic rhythm section. Revelry wallows in reverberating, melancholic self-pity, again revealing slices of the confused and unhappy anti-hero: It was me that drove us right in the ground, Caleb moans. 17 sees us back onto another familiar subject. Oh, she's only seventeen, it begins, and give it a guess where it goes from there. It suffers in comparison to the other Kings of Leon song which features a seventeen-year-old love interest, Slow Night So Long; it is less contemplative, more prosaic and less greasy. Where Slow Night So Long is jammed full of disgust, self-loathing and crippling loneliness, 17 comes across comparatively smug. Notion is a vocal and musical strut, but lyrically devoid of anything new. It must be said that on the less interesting songs, drummer Nathan seems to work twice as hard: Be Somebody features a ferociously engaging rhythm section, as well as swampy guitar work from lead guitarist and cousin-rather-than-brother Matthew.

Overall Impression — 8
I Want You is the most obviously rhythmic track, a laidback and quirkily observant ode to nights out and small towns. I will here note that Kings of Leon have come a long way from their earlier everything's the same, this town is pitiful/and I'll be getting out as soon as I can fly attitude: we must assume that small towns are much easier to admire from a Japanese hotel room than they are from an actual small town. The fickle freshman, probably thinks he's cooler than you, the lyrics go, trailing into descriptions of the land of the creeps and home-made fratboy pornography. What this has to do with the I want you chorus line is never made clear, but it is funkier and fresher than a lot of the material on the album. Cold Desert is the album closer, a song written - Caleb claims - while under the influence of pain medication following a fight with Nathan. Cold Desert has none of the musical energy of the similar Day Old Blues or The Runner from previous albums, and at first seems bloated in comparison; in fact, this lyrically devastating, intensely personal, and achingly miserable hymn of desolation numbers among Kings of Leon's most powerful tracks. Jesus don't love me, Caleb howls into the emptiness, No one ever carried my load. I'm too young to feel this old. For me, this does not equal 2005's Aha Shake Heartbreak either track-for-track or cohesively, but this does not make it a bad record. It has substituted much of it's raw teenaged energy for musical skill and lyrical exploration; it is a big, sprawling epic of an album, and I imagine it is just precisely the one that Kings of Leon intended to make.

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Underjoggle
    I saw them do a few of these songs (presumably) on SNL. I wondered where my good old KOL went. Oh well, I'm sure a few indie rock fans will like their new direction.
    planktonfighter
    johnwh92 wrote: groll01 wrote: wow the attitude you guys have to music is that of 10 year old girls not musicians! "blah blah i want three versions of there 1st album" GO LISTEN TO THE 1ST ALBUM THEM! Saying its not KOL is a joke..... who knows the band more the the people it in huh? clearly not the fans! if you dont like the new stuff thats fine, but dont go posting rubbish about disrespecting fans, when there doing the oppiste, it would be disrespectful and also dishonest(to them selfs and the fans) TO the to try and recreate a sound the had when they were that much younger. GROW UP! JUST LIKE BANDS DO! /rant i dont think i could have said it better myself my friend...really, amazing dude
    This statement could be said to every album review comments section I've seen on the internet. There's always a bunch of people who don't like the new album because it's different. Then there's the people who call themselves true fans because they've liked everything the bands produced and then the new fans who have only come onboard because they like the bands new direction where as they disliked previous works. ShazAA!
    garager
    666JakeY666 : Okay, I had this album a week before it's release. And I havn't stopped playing it. It's a great KOL album everything you could want from them. So the people who are ripping on them by saying "I want the old KOL back" then your not really a fan of the band. Your a fan of THAT band, I've loved them since the first album. Seems like another Metallica thing going on here.
    amen my friend. This band rules. I think evolution in music is brilliant
    basket_case_44
    Kol said themselves they want to turn out a different album each time musicians have to have variety in their lives too they cant just make a whole career out of the same thing in an interview i remember them saying that the next album could be anything from a gospel album to an art-rock album...anything except shit hop haha so just stop ur whingeing about how there new album has made themselves a few more teenage fans and sit back and marvel at the genius that is the Kings of Leon as scroobius pip says " Thou shalt not stop liking a band just because theyve become popular" lol
    johnwh92
    groll01 wrote: wow the attitude you guys have to music is that of 10 year old girls not musicians! "blah blah i want three versions of there 1st album" GO LISTEN TO THE 1ST ALBUM THEM! Saying its not KOL is a joke..... who knows the band more the the people it in huh? clearly not the fans! if you dont like the new stuff thats fine, but dont go posting rubbish about disrespecting fans, when there doing the oppiste, it would be disrespectful and also dishonest(to them selfs and the fans) TO the to try and recreate a sound the had when they were that much younger. GROW UP! JUST LIKE BANDS DO! /rant
    i dont think i could have said it better myself my friend...really, amazing dude
    groll01
    wow the attitude you guys have to music is that of 10 year old girls not musicians! "blah blah i want three versions of there 1st album" GO LISTEN TO THE 1ST ALBUM THEM! Saying its not KOL is a joke..... who knows the band more the the people it in huh? clearly not the fans! if you dont like the new stuff thats fine, but dont go posting rubbish about disrespecting fans, when there doing the oppiste, it would be disrespectful and also dishonest(to them selfs and the fans) TO the to try and recreate a sound the had when they were that much younger. GROW UP! JUST LIKE BANDS DO! /rant
    whisperingwolf
    egh. I dunno what to say. is it possible to hate the new KoL but like it at the same time? because, even though it's new for them, it doesn't mean it's awful music. it's just not them. if they changed their identities and band name I would like them, because it's good music - but it's just not KoL. and now i'm only making sense to myself. rrrr.
    OzarkMDaredevil
    666JakeY666 wrote: Okay, I had this album a week before it's release. And I havn't stopped playing it. It's a great KOL album everything you could want from them. So the people who are ripping on them by saying "I want the old KOL back" then your not really a fan of the band. Your a fan of THAT band, I've loved them since the first album. Seems like another Metallica thing going on here.
    I agree, as much as I love the old KOL, their new songs are still insanely good. I thought "Oh shit, It's gonna be crappy pop." But it's not anywhere close, I think this will be a great album, right up there with Youth and Young Manhood.
    gibson-sg-rocks
    Underjoggle : I saw them do a few of these songs (presumably) on SNL. I wondered where my good old KOL went. Oh well, I'm sure a few indie rock fans will like their new direction.
    i feel the same. this album is by far the worst. i just want the old KOL back. i want the big indie riffs. not slow ballads. i thought the last album was bad, but this is worse. not happy at all.
    rhcp-legends
    Bozjoarmstrong wrote: i personally think this is terrible sex on fire is an insult to rock music, and frankly i am shocked that it got to number one Kings of Leon should stick to what they know instead of betraying their fans with this crap
    come on, sex on fire is a great track it has every thing you want - a few good lead guitar riffs and a catchy chorus
    joker_thief
    i really have no idea what you guys are talkin about. this album rocks. for real.
    Bozjoarmstrong
    i personally think this is terrible sex on fire is an insult to rock music, and frankly i am shocked that it got to number one Kings of Leon should stick to what they know instead of betraying their fans with this crap
    gibson!
    i downloaded the album about a week ago and i felt asthough it wasnt great on the first listen but ive listened to it lots lately and im really getting into it now, however i do think that there are a couple of weak tracks on there
    j_hunter_hkr
    They peaked on 'Aha Shake...' and it's been downhill from there. Because Of The Times had it's moments, but I much prefer the old KoL to the new one.
    Demonn
    lol iv had this album for ages, shudve done a review a while ago ... sorry for being a downloading bastard...
    Norraz
    I found this to be a pretty solid album, not quite what I came to expect from KOL, but still pretty solid.
    666JakeY666
    Okay, I had this album a week before it's release. And I havn't stopped playing it. It's a great KOL album everything you could want from them. So the people who are ripping on them by saying "I want the old KOL back" then your not really a fan of the band. Your a fan of THAT band, I've loved them since the first album. Seems like another Metallica thing going on here.
    flea878
    I thought 'Because of the Times' was a great album. Can't wait to hear this one, hope it's just better than A-Ha Shake Heartbreak.