brent johnson looks at kings of leon and wonders if they can be the rock ‘n’ roll saviors people have pegged them to be …
A few years ago, my brother — as he often does — tipped me off about a new, exciting band. They were this group of family members — brothers and cousins — from Tennessee, but they didn’t play country or swampy Southern rock. They were called Kings Of Leon, and they had this nifty little single called ‘The Bucket.’
It was catchy, slightly gritty and had the kind of golden harmonies you don’t always hear in modern rock music. It was a fun, guitar-driven track you can sing along to, but it wasn’t the kind of single that could rule the world.
Things have changed. Suddenly, Kings Of Leon are the torch-bearers for radio-ready, popular modern rock. The single that broke them beyond indie record stores, ‘Sex On Fire,’ had enough soul, hook and slick production to dominate the airwaves. And while the follow-up, ‘Use Somebody,’ wasn’t nearly as good a song, it was sort of anthemic. And that’s one of two ways for a rock band to break big these days: belt booming choruses fit for Giant Stadium or strip down like the Plain White Ts and play from your acoustic heart.
This puts Kings Of Leon in a peculiar place. They seem one ‘With Or Without You’ away from becoming THE band — A.K.A., modern rock’s great hope.
Every once in a while, this happens. Music on the radio is bland and uniform, until one group magically shifts the market. The Beatles destroyed squeaky-clean, family-hour pop in the 1960s. The Knack helped bring down disco with ‘My Sharona’ in the ’70s. Nirvana smacked Tiffani and hair metal in the face in the ’90s.
But after Britney and Backstreet murdered the underrated alt-rock-pop era of the mid-to-late Clinton era, there hasn’t been a rock band that truly rejuvenates the genre, making it truly alive again.
Of course, there are still plenty of uber-popular rock bands: Coldplay, Green Day, even U2. But those groups are always around, pumping out hits and never really defining their genre anymore. And many indie-acts-turned stars aren’t super-sized anymore: The White Stripes, Panic At The Disco, The Killers. But Kings Of Leon are different: They still have indie cred but have now figured out how to please the masses with song. They theoretically could be the band that proves radio could has a place for well-made rock music to stand alongside Gaga and Beyonce.
England has figured out how to do this for years. Rock bands like The Smiths, The Cure, Oasis, Blur, The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys are massive stars overseas, sharing radio time with The Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue. In the U.S., they’re indie acts. Kings Of Leon are even one of the many American bands who made it in England first. Same happened for The Strokes and The Killers.
But something tells me Kings Of Leon aren’t a game-changing act. The quality of their music aside, they’re the kind of band that rock fans seem to want: faceless and lacking in true charisma. Before they ever had a hit, they had to cut their hair and sex-up their sound. The Beatles and Nirvana scoffed at such notions.
Maybe this is what we’re left with for now: good rock tunes but no revolution. I’m just happy Kings Of Leon even have a shot at the Top 40.
And I’m just happy we live in a world where songs like ‘The Bucket’ still exist. If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor: