Thursday, January 3, 2013

LA Weekly's Aaron Frank Makes the Case for Kings of Leon

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 at 3:36 PM

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In a recent piece for LA Weekly's West Coast Sound titled "Quit Hating on Kings of Leon, Even If You Disliked 'Sex on Fire,'" contributor Aaron Frank pleads the case for Nashville's own Music City Ambassador Award recipients Kings of Leon. Frank leads by noting that when he informally polls his KOL-despising cohorts as to why they don't like the Followills, he typically gets a variant on one of two responses: "They just seem like douchebags," or "That 'Sex on Fire' song is terrible." A brief excerpt from the piece:

Journalists criticize Kings of Leon as being out for only fame and fortune, but it's an accusation rarely ever hurled at musicians from other genres. These guys grew up dirt poor, shuffling around to their father's pentecostal sermons throughout the south. Can you really blame them for wanting to escape that? Also, growing up in the south, as I can attest, you're lucky to even come across music that doesn't fit the standard god and guns model, and you're immediately appreciative if you do. So who are we to question whether or not their influences are genuine?

...

Also: Note how much good music they've released over the years. Though I still find their debut quite spotty, each album since has seen exponential improvement. 2004's Aha Shake Heartbreak is arguably the best southern rock album of the 2000's, finding upbeat boot-stomping jams like "Taper Jean Girl" blending with more melodic folk-inspired fare like "Day Old Blues."

OK, first: Despite Frank's inference in that first paragraph up there, we Southern-native rock 'n' roll fans weren't so hard up for non-God-and-guns-related material coming up that we squealed with joy when we came across a rock band that sings about anything other than barbecues and church and hound dogs. I mean, Big Star? REM? The B-52's? Superchunk? All of Elephant 6? (My colleague Adam Gold notes Slint as well.) The South has a pretty strong tradition of excellent, non-good-old-boy-friendly rock 'n' roll.

And second, "Day Old Blues"? I'll allow that they've penned plenty of material you can most definitely make the case for. But "Day Old Blues"? That misguided cuckoo clock of a song? Here, listen for yourself. Generally speaking, I would argue that — from what I've heard, and I am not a completist — KOL's records have gotten mostly less idiosyncratic and challenging, though certainly more stadium-friendly.

Now, before I go any further, I should say that I appreciate Frank's efforts. It's lazy and silly and, hell, even dangerous to write off an artist's entire catalog because you don't like their biggest hit, or because they gave some head-scratch-worthy quotes here and there. But Kings of Leon have long been going for the accessible, mainstream arena-rock thing, right? You can't get pissed at a leopard for having spots, but you also can't try to say the spots aren't really all that spot-like when pleading a case for the leopard. The Followills make big, accessible rock records. That's what they do. It's possible to make big, accessible rock records that are very good (a la, say, The Strokes), and it's also possible to make big, accessible rock records that are very bad (a la ... Nickelback or, shit, take your pick). In fairness, KOL fall somewhere in middle of that spectrum, I'd say. I've never been offended by it — pop music is largely, by nature, inoffensive — but I have indeed been deeply offended by Nickelback's music on many, many occasions.

But the minor issue I take with Frank's piece isn't that it makes the case for Kings of Leon. My issue is that, rather than presenting some of their better songs and explaining why they're good, Frank mostly just notes that KOL play big, awesome music festivals and like Pixies and shouldn't be faulted because their label wants them to write hits. Frank does, however, close by giving the actual material some critical praise: "Their most recent and most overlooked, Come Around Sundown, emerged a near-perfect balance with their more understated influences. Listen to the beautifully frail piano melody that closes out 'The End' for reference." All right then, fair enough:

Well?

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