Lost and without a compass
The Kings are lost and losing their thrones; they seem to be overshadowed by their early 2000s albums Mechanical Bull (2003) and Only By the Night (2008). The Followill brothers (and one cousin) are chasing a sound that doesn’t place in the 2021 carrot-and-stick style. Their newest venture, When You See Yourself, has the wallowing stories of a band in regression.
The Kings of Leon seemed to rise to stardom with their creativity and impulsivity. But once the top was hit, the slope became steeper and the distinct distorted sound was lost. As the band’s eighth album, When You See Yourself strives to be shamefully contemporary. The opener, “When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away,” teases the sound of a headlining band with euphoric polyrhythms, offering a skewed alternative beat to match with today’s music.
“The Bandit” has hues of their old music with rhythmic distortion from Caleb and Nathan Followill. The distorted and distinct sound from their previous music seems to surface here, as the instruments converse and wade in the electric currents of their delayed sounds. Jared Followill’s bass riffs are eccentric, providing the youthful sound this album needs more of, which is also found on “Stormy Weather.”
Followill’s vocals have never been easily translated or audible in the past, though before they had melody. His vocals in “A Wave” are barely decipherable, though it is at least complemented with eclectic bass playing and a killer rhythm. “Golden Restless Age” has the hollowed sound from previous Kings of Leon hits, without the disparity. It is pitched at the tempo of their hits from Mechanical Bull but has the melodramatic essence to fit the rest of this tracklist.
The fame from their infamous album Only By the Night seems to have run out, as their music lacks the jubilance it had before. The energy from their previous music has slowly dissipated in time. “Time in Disguise” is a prime example of this, beginning as an almost electro-rock that transitions into something worse. “Supermarket” wallows as well, with a slightly elevated chorus to make the song remotely dynamic, but it tapers off into the darkness with the rest of the album.
The slower song of a rock band tends to bring more emotion. It strives for the heart and re-establishes that connection between the audience and the band. “Claire & Eddie” is an easy track with the light-heartedness of a summer day and longs for something more. This song allows personality to emerge more than others, with limited interference to the already-talented vocals of Caleb Followill. An acoustic sound offers more resonance rather than the continuous layering of beat after beat. “100,000 People” seems to walk a similar line, with a bit more emotion and dynamism, though the underlying metronomic organ is distracting. The album’s closer, “Fairytale,” tries to follow this theme as well but is instead skipped due to the almost echoed arena-sound this song tries to recreate, perhaps in light of the pandemic.
Masked by producer Markus Dravis’ engineering, “Echoing” flows with the style of the band, but sounds manipulated. While Dravis’s work is impeccable—as a previous engineer on Coldplay and Arcade Fire records—each song sounds expensive and way too technical. The Kings need to return to their roots, and this track has not helped.
Somehow, the Kings of Leon evolved from a southern rock group to the adventurous arena-rock band they became with their 2008 album. When You See Yourself lacks the eclectic masculinity their previous work has contained. Slivers of originality seem to emerge occasionally, but this album is not who they are, or were. It’s hard to picture the band the Kings of Leon used to be, like the maned beasts who topped the charts with their own creativity. Though in reality, it seems as if they are lost in this journey as well, trying to find their way back to the throne and scavenging for the tools to get there.