If Kings of Leon were a book, Flannery O'Connor would be the author. The Nashville-based quartet has a compelling Southern Gothic sensibility — that is, a dark, rough-hewn dirtiness punctuated by firefly points of musical and lyrical beauty and melancholia.
Oddly, it's the Kings of Leon's least-compelling album to date that's finally thrust them into the spotlight they've deserved in America since 2003's Holy Roller Novocaine EP. Not that Only by the Night is drastically different from its predecessors, Youth and Young Manhood, Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times. The winning formula remains the same for this prolific foursome. The firm production (and sometime-co-writing hand) of Angelo Petraglia is at the helm again, and the resultant 11 tracks are a strong, cohesive garage-y blend that alternately soars, moans, shuffles and rocks, although ultimately proves less affecting than its predecessors.
On such songs as "Cold Desert," KOL are aurally cinematic in a David Lynch-meets-Ang Lee sort of way, while "Closer" has a haunting, almost Birthday Party-esque Euro darkness, spooky droning ambience and a spare surreal vibe. There's still an off-kilter loveliness to frontman Caleb Followill's ragged, yearning vocals that meshes well with the raw, ultra-fuzzy guitars on songs like the wild-eyed "Crawl," yet the sum of Only by the Night's parts don't make for a fully realized whole.
Statistics, however, are saying otherwise: Saturday Night Live, SPIN and Billboard chart appearances are all part of KOL's "arrival" in this country. The UK embraced the band from the get-go, though, as did Bob Dylan (who had them open for him in '06), Pearl Jam, U2 and assorted waif models. The band's back story — brothers Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill had a strict, movie-worthy church upbringing in the Deep South before musical and personal innocence turned into raucous rockstar revelry — initially overwhelmed the music. But now, a mere six years into their prolific recording career, their carefully crafted songs, image and mien never ring untrue. And while the foursome may take a studied approach, Kings of Leon nevertheless continue to present an evocative and provocative package.
Kings of Leon play Saturday, Nov. 8, at The Fillmore. 2115 Woodward Ave.; 313-961-5451.
Katherine Turman reviews music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].