Photo Credit: RCA Records
On When You See Yourself, their first new album in five years (and eighth studio effort overall), Kings of Leon offer up fifty minutes of tight, mature, intelligent rock ‘n’ roll, most of which can be described as “atmospheric” but almost none of which comes off as incidental. The marathon-titled opening cut “When You See Yourself, You are Far Away” successfully sets the stage, being a subtle track in which the quasi-funky bass is introduced at exactly the right time (and that bass, courtesy of longtime member Jared Followill, will soon become apparent as being the linchpin which holds much of the music on the album together).
As distinct as the Kings of Leon’s sound is, several tracks on When You See Yourself may well remind listeners of the more mellow side of a few other major artists. “Supermarket” clearly belongs in the same aisle as some of Blur’s softer hits such as “Out of Time.” Heartfelt closing track “Fairytale” is on par with some of the Rolling Stones’ trademark ballads (particularly “Fool to Cry”). On “Golden Restless Age”, Kings of Leon could pass for a more mature version of the Killers. “100,000 People” is built around a driving beat that is kind of on the same side as Lou Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wild Side” but sort of takes the scenic route through the Americana rock sound of artists like Tom Petty and John Mellencamp. Kings of Leon also find success when utilizing fairly traditional rock hooks, as they do on the structurally impenetrable “Time in Disguise”, which also presents the best “clean” guitar solo you’re bound to have heard on a rock record in some time.
Lead singer and guitarist Caleb Followill (bassist Jared is his brother, as is drummer Nathan Followill; guitarist Matthew Followill is their cousin) proves here to be another major reason for the success of not just this record by the band but in general. His vocals are soulful yet grounded, pleasant and comforting without ever allowing the listeners’ interest in what he’s singing about to wane. The lyrics can occasionally become clichéd or at the very least routine (“Time away from here has never felt so long // Quiet in the air never too far gone,” “The start of something new // Still nothing makes me feel the way you do // You do, you do, you do”), which is a bit disappointing for a band that comes up with song titles as unique as “Time in Disguise” and “Golden Restless Age” (“Stormy Weather” has been used before, but they’re probably aware of that).
The songs on When You See Yourself average about four minutes in length, yet every last one feels almost epic in its own right (with only the possible exception of “A Wave”, a piano ballad which at time feels a bit strained). The album is tight and relaxed. After a single run-through you’ll definitely see yourself listening to it again (and again). After a five-year absence, Kings of Leon have returned to take their rightful place on the adult alternative rock throne, and here’s hoping they never advocate.