Saturday, December 04, 2004

Love In The Time Of The KoL Era (and other album reviews)

Last year's release of Kings Of Leon's Youth and Young Manhood was greeted with the wild and ludicrous praise that it was the best debut album for 10 years, but while it had some good tunes, it was essentially straight-down-the-middle redneck rock repackaged for Strokes fans, the presence of mysterious mentor and co-writer 'Angelo' and its' ready-to-go commercial slickness producing an album that was more admirable than genuinely loveable. Their follow-up Aha Shake Heartbreak feels less like a bespoke greatest-hits package and will therefore fare less well commercially, but compensates with a raw edginess and a variety of mood sadly lacking in their debut.

Much has been made of the fact that a few of the band members lost their virginities (and gained some nasty STDs) between the two records and yet the best songs here are seething with the anger, frustration and indignation one associates with young men who simply aren't getting enough. While its true that the lyrical content is a little preoccupied with the hazards of tourbus ennui that have blighted many a nascent band in the past, this new attitude seems to suit the boys and it's like witnessing their true personalities finally emerge outside the original Angelo blueprint. 'The Bucket' is gloriously stroppy while 'Kings Of The Rodeo' comes closest to the catchiness of the first album while still coloured by their newly-discovered 'sang-froid'. They even find time for a bit of yodelling, and amazingly pull it off on what must be considered one of the best albums of the autumn season.

I won't be able to catch the live Kings Of Leon experience at Wolves Civic Hall on December 16 as it clashes with Interpol at the Carling Academy where Secret Machines will be offering support. Seeing their album Nowhere Is Now Here for a cutprice £8.99 in Virgin I decided to invest, and indeed, investigate. The record contains just eight tracks but none could be described as filler as each song has something interesting to offer, even if some occasionally outstay their welcome. People are making comparisons with the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and there's certainly more prog influences than is normally healthy for a first album, but the band they reminded me of most was none other than mid-90s pompous gothrockers Mansun, and occasionally The Boo Radleys at their most indulgent. There's a lot to like about the record, which has some considerable tunes aboard, but I found it a little too polite and well-mannered for my personal taste. Maybe it'll all make a little more sense in the live arena.

Now Mansun and The Boo Radleys are just about the only two major British indie acts of the last twenty years that Canadian outfit The Dears don't at some point sound like on their breakthrough record No Cities Left. I can't quite get enough gist of the lyrics to find out quite what's giving lead singer Murray the hump, but this is certainly one of the best records for wallowing to in living memory. Sounding alternately like Morrissey and Damon Albarn, the cumulative effect is similar to Radiohead in the way the vocals are very much used as part of the instrumentation (There There, My Dears, if you will). If that sounds a bit indulgent then fuck yes, it is: no smoking jacket is required to listen to this record but it probably helps. It's music for reclining to on a sofa with a bottle of sherry in one hand and a fistful of chocolate fingers in the other: come the spring, you'll want to slap this record around the face and tell it to get out more, but only after you've done the same to yourself. A cautious recommendation, then.

Finally to Fuckin' A by The Thermals which I inexplicably neglected during my last album review compendium. The Thermals were the last great new band I discovered while listening to Peel, and this rapid-fire sequel to 'More Parts Per Million' has been greeted with some disappointment that the DIY production ethic of their debut has been displaced in favour of a more layered, nu-metal, MTV-friendly sheen. I think this is a little unfair: the band still sound like they're performing inside a cupboard, albeit one with a few nice new shelves added and a touch of polish applied to the hinges. That said, there's little new in evidence from the first record, although at its best (eg. opener 'Our Trip' and 'A Stare Like Yours') there's sufficient sound and fury to remind me why I got so excited and energised by the band on their debut.

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