Since their 2003 debut, Youth & Young Manhood, Kings of Leon have veered between two styles. There’s the Lynyrd Skynyrd-biting good ol’ boys who love hot rock & roll, cold beer, and fast girls. Then there are the Grammy-winning artists with stadium-size ambitions to be the South’s answer to Radiohead or U2. They split the difference on their seventh album, and the result is their richest, most textured effort yet. With Arcade Fire and Björk producer Markus Dravs behind the boards, frontman Caleb, drummer Nathan, guitarist Matthew, and bassist Jared Followill craft songs with a tossed-off breeziness that only Southern gents can muster. That casualness is in stark contrast to Caleb’s dark lyrics. At 34—and married to model Lily Aldridge—he dives into his anxieties of staring down middle age, which is a boon to his storytelling: Even the machoest of bros will tear up over the gorgeous title track, where Caleb curiously confesses, “A man ain’t a man unless he has desire.” The Kings’ youth and young manhood may be fading; their music sounds all the better for it.
We gave it a B+