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Album review: Kings of Leon's 'Come Around Sundown'

October 19, 2010 | 11:48 am

Kings_of_leon_240Sons of a preacher man, the Kings of Leon are traditionalists, renovators of abandoned guitar lines from classic rock radio, which they expertly refurbish into modern, stadium-ready anthems. For better and worse, they’re like the IKEA of rock — taking classic, clean designs and spitting out new versions that work for listeners who want to venture a bit afield but not too far.

At times, the Tennessee band’s old-fashioned approach can be exactly the element that surprises: The piano at the close of “The End” finishes on a bright key instead of a discordant note, which would be in keeping with the song’s somber mood. It’s unexpected within the track’s context, yet the choice can’t help but recall old radio optimism, when the likes of Brian Wilson or Elton John wanted little more than to coax a smile.

But that old-timey streak also gets them into trouble. Despite impressive energy, “Mary” is hampered by a preening guitar and a chorus that feels borrowed from a Monday night bar band.

It’s that paradox that’s most fascinating about the Kings of Leon: their weaknesses often sit in stark relief against their strengths, and sometimes the devil in their music does the Lord’s work and vice versa. Case in point: The same impulse that wrecks “Mary” saves “Back Down South,” a porch-ready sing-along for the country in us all.

The Kings of Leon also have a morose and thorny side — but it’s the band’s biggest virtue. “The Immortals” revolves around an Andy Summers-like guitar line that’s all distant swagger and don’t-stand-so-close-to-me cool. With its redemptive sins, “Come Around Sundown” ends up being a portrait of light and dark worthy of the rock and roll bible.

— Margaret Wappler

The Kings of Leon
“Come Around Sundown”
Three stars (Out of four)