Kings of Leon has amped up the “revival” half of their revival-rock offerings for Come Around Sundown, easily casting off the anthemic, U2-tinged stylings of Because of the Times and Only By the Night for a sound that is altogether more greasy, wincing, and workmanlike. Gone are the stadium riffs and wanderlust, along with the world-conquering snark that, at least on Only By the Night, started to slowly and monstrously turn from standard rock bravado to grating self-aggrandizement.
Instead, Come Around Sundown is a tired record, pining in anguish for a home back South, an uneventful day off, and—on some weary, underlying level—a way to escape. In other words, Kings of Leon has all the signs of a band that knows they’ve hit their apex, and now, breathless and sliding down the other side of the mountain, is reflecting on the whirlwind journey that has passed.
Caleb Followill’s sweeping melodies and scratchy, cracked musings can still be found in spades. There is, however, a kind of lethargic resignation about them: When not wistful, Followill sounds distracted, as if caught in a lyrical daydream. Two records ago, something like “The Immortals” would burn and kick, but on Come Around Sundown, it’s simply another three minutes of catchy, Southern-fried yearning. Elsewhere, the Followill family is often dangerously close to going through the motions: “Pyro” has all the makings of a stereotypical, slow-burning rock ballad, while “Radioactive” is the perfect, predictable model of a by-the-numbers first single.
This is still Kings of Leon, of course, so even when half-assed, the Tennessee boys churn out pretty good music. “Pickup Truck” might be a barely disguised reworking of “Manhattan,” but it remains just as satisfyingly bittersweet and irreverently cornball (Followill rhymes “thinking of you” with “bloody tooth”). The sublime “Birthday” is another reminder of Followill’s expertise in blending clumsy seduction with a troubled conscience, while “No Money” employs the no-energy-left, fed-up mindset as a driving, angsty sing-along.
The lingering question is not so much about how exhausted this band is, but rather, how long they can enjoy the afterglow of Only By the Night before having to reinvent themselves? The answer seems to be one record, at least, as Come Around Sundown buys Kings of Leon at least a little more time as the champions of mass-appeal Dixie garage rock.