Kings of Leon, those Tennessee-bred champions of whiskey, women, and whomp-whomp guitars, spent years Method-acting their roles as the tight-pantsed swains of Southern rock. And on their fourth album, 2008’s Only by the Night, they finally hit the jackpot — selling out stadiums, squinting broodily from glossy magazine covers, grasping Grammys in both hands. That the Followill clan got there, in part, by abandoning much of the loose-limbed Skynyrd-y hedonism of their earlier stuff for somber U2 gravitas is probably keen calculation. But it’s also kind of a shame that the band, and the buying public, didn’t recognize their best inclinations when they had them.
Come Around Sundown‘s drawling Joshua Tree sprawl, engaging enough on album opener ”The End” and gospel-tinged first single ”Radioactive,” soon grows shopworn. Frontman Caleb Followill has mastered his Bono-goes-down-to-Dixie wail, but musings that reach for poetic depth often come off as merely gluey and morose. (From ”Pyro”: ”All the black inside me is slowly seeping from the bone/Everything I cherish is slowly dying or it’s gone” — dark days for a dude who just got engaged to a Victoria’s Secret model.)
If anything, the group now sounds like a more ponderous My Morning Jacket, coiffed and calibrated to reach the cheap seats. That does lend tracks like ”The Immortals” and ”Mary” their own sonorous appeal, but as Sundown drones on, it begs for less melodrama, and more levity. B?