Review: Kings of Leon Grapple With Contemporary Mainstream on 'Walls'

Review: Kings of Leon Grapple With Contemporary Mainstream on 'Walls'

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Review: Kings of Leon Grapple With Contemporary Mainstream on 'Walls' news

Credit: Jimmy Marble

"Like in a mainstream melody/Oh, I want to take you in!" sings Caleb Followill on "Wild," a pop-rock rhinestone delivering said melody with bell-toned guitars and a sing-along chorus. Sure enough, after a sleeves-up recommitment to their Southern garage-ish roots on Mechanical Bull in 2013, the band's seventh LP tries to parse what "mainstream" means right now for a bunch of true-to-their-school guitar-slingers. The result is radio-buff rock & roll that could spoon between One Republic's genre-splicing power moves and the Head and the Heart's folk-pop uplift.

Producer Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Mumford & Sons) does an admirable job of translating Followill's signature slurred delivery and the band's muscular jangle into thicker arrangements, though the result can feel generic: "Reverend" resembles the pro-forma rock Nashville now markets as "country," while the anthemic "whoa-ooo"s in "Waste a Moment" – mirroring the Kings' mega-hit "Use Somebody" – have a whiff of old stadium hot-dogs. Encouragingly, the best bits are less predictable. The homeboy requiem "Muchacho" echoes the drum-machine cha-cha revival seeded by D.R.A.M. and Drake's "Hotline Bling" with a Roy Orbison delivery (remix!). And the title track is a slow-build power ballad suggesting the Kings can be more potent and distinctive when they dial it back.

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