Sound — 7
Though it may have been too heavy on the arena rock ballads, it was Kings Of Leon's fourth album, "Only by the Night," that earned them mainstream success eight years ago, bringing forth the infectious hits "Sex on Fire" and the Grammy-winning "Use Somebody." From there, KOL have used their larger scale of attention to tinker with their sound, from rehashing their southern rock roots and peppering in some surf rock in 2010's "Come Around Sundown," to taking a stab at the blues rock revival trend and even some post-punk revival in 2013's "Mechanical Bull."
Having displayed this desire to see what the next step for the band would be musically, KOL's seventh album, "WALLS," shows the band moving forward more than ever before. Distancing themselves from the stronger distortion in the previous couple of albums, their punchier guitar sound here showcases more of a perky disposition in the dance rock groove of "Around the World," the post-punk revival pep of "Find Me" and The Strokes-esque "Eyes on You." Along with that, the gentler melodies woven together in "Waste a Moment," "Reverend" and "Wild" have KOL operating in an indie rock realm that eases from the steadfast loudness of their southern rock roots without sacrificing aural energy, and with frontman Caleb Followill's standout vocals still at the helm, KOL still sound like KOL even with the substantial change in style.
They may have found a new route to a lively sound in their more upbeat moments, but KOL don't have as much success finding new ways to make their ballad side more interesting in "WALLS." "Over" does the best job of the bunch, with its hazier guitar/bass layers lining up with the other indie rock inclinations in the album, and though the other curveballs of added keyboard melodies in "Conversation Piece" and the OMD-type synth beats in the acoustic ballad "Muchacho" don't succeed outright, they get credit for being different compared to the ending eponymous ballad having the same rock ballad feel that the other closing songs in the last three albums had.
Lyrics — 7
With the title of "WALLS" being an acronym for "We Are Like Love Songs," Caleb Followill's lyrics in the album show a number of romantic themes, both feverish and realistic. Earlier on, Followill marvels over the intangible odds of love sparking between two souls in a vast world (in "Around the World" and the following "Find Me"), and from his vow of unceasing companionship in "Conversation Piece" ("I will never leave you lonely / You're the one I'm running to"), to his admittance of reveling in the dysfunction that rears its head in relationships ("The roles we play together / The slaps across my face / I face the music / You write the scene" in "Over"; "You're my misfit and I'm your freak / Dance all night 'til our knees go weak" in "Eyes on You"), Followill strives for his bonds of love to be unbreakable. But with the breaking of a romantic bond in "WALLS" being a display of the inevitable truth that nothing lasts forever, Followill still can't help but be thrown in disarray as a response ("You can't leave me here alone / I'm just trying to do what's right / Oh, a man ain't a man 'less he's fought the fight"), and even after the dust settles, his somber remarks in "The Reverend" show that the sentiments regarding separation are there to stay ("My heart will never say so / My heart will never let you go").
Overall Impression — 8
After planting a flag in southern rock and expanding it to an arena rock size with their mainstream success, KOL have been considerably tentative about whether to proceed on the path they know well or take a turn into something new. Finally deciding on the latter, it's a choice that pays off in "WALLS," and with the band taking an invested, definitive step in a new musical direction, KOL not only set foot on a fresher path for their tenured catalog, but prove they can work well with a more melodic and easygoing indie rock style.