Bands get exhausted just as often as people get exhausted of listening to them - you just hear about it less. So when Kings of Leon imploded, or took a hiatus, or merely went quiet after a tumultuous patch a couple of years back, it qualified as news, even though it really should have been considered a favor. The band had gotten big, and it needed something else, bumpy road there be damned.
And so a decade after its debut album, Kings of Leon is making a U-turn, heading back in the direction of being the band it once was. The best parts of “Mechanical Bull,” its sixth album, come when that exhaustion seeps into the songwriting and playing. Even though Kings of Leon has had a handful of world-killing hits - “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” chief among them - it’s always been a haggard, handsome Southern rock band at its core, and the best songs here exude a macho kind of depression.
“Rock City” has the requisite sleaze, with guitars that linger like a headache and Caleb Followill ranting, “I was running through the desert/ I was looking for drugs/ and I was searching for a woman who was willing to love.” On “Family Tree,” almost all of the arena-size ambition is gone, and what’s left is some dirty ZZ Top-esque blues-rock, a mode that suits this band well.
Subtlety has never been one of this band’s gifts, and its lyrics can veer toward the comedic - “Comeback Story” includes the punch line, “I walked a mile in your shoes/ and now I’m a mile away/ and I’ve got your shoes.” In general, the less this band talks, the better. The high points here are the ones where it sounds as if the band has the least gas in the tank, like the elegant “Beautiful War.” It sounds like a band at the end of its career, leaning on instinct, and it’s savage. It also drags out past five minutes - not to be extravagant, but rather to roll slowly to a full stop.
- JON CARAMANICA, New York Times