I want to hate this band. Actually, I want to hate any band with a song called “Sex On Fire.” I tried to dismiss Kings of Leon for their filthy lyrics, bodyguards (it’s true) and painted-on jeans, but beyond that, I really can’t muster any cynicism. I love the early-Stones confidence of “I Want You,” the catchy-as-hell melody of “Use Somebody” and the subtle mid-record slowdown. Caleb Followill’s echoey ?vocals during “Sex On Fire” make up for the unfortunate title, and his brother’s rough-to-ringing guitar moments on “17” make up for the unfortunate subject matter (a hot teenager). I’m not out to defend the band’s character or artistic integrity—I suspect they’re usually some combination of wasted, horny and arrogant; and the Kings clearly strive to be stars. But there’s a place in the world for arena rock (it’s called the arena), and you can’t blame the guys for deftly pulling off this formula. After all, there’s only one U2 (well, two if you count Coldplay), and somebody’s got to open for them.
Maybe the world needs bands like Kings of Leon to pump out albums of ever-durable testosto-rock. They fill the void when people need to believe dudes with shaggy hair are on the case, “saving rock.” The fact that the Followill brothers are the sons of a Pentecostal preacher may lend a minute of authenticity to suck-ass lyrics like “You, your sex is on fire,” but that’ll only get you so far, and innocuous Don Henley tripe like “Notion” squanders any holy rollin’ cred the band might have scored. This is the Kings’ fourth album, where they supposedly expand their palette and mature (like puberty, right on schedule), but don’t be fooled by the occasional interesting arrangement—it’s also right on schedule for more hookless half-funk (“Manhattan”) and underwhelming lyrics about how it’s cold in the desert (“Cold Desert”). Here’s to hoping the odes to statutory rape (“17”) will cease right on time, too.