With their debut offering Youth & Young Manhood, the Kings of Leon were granted more interest for their peculiar history than they were for the fine set of tunes they’d put forth. It’s been told too many times of course, but if you haven’t heard already…as children, the Followill gang traveled the deep American south with their preacher father, living out of a van and taking their first steps towards a rock n’ roll career in churches with gospel choirs. Rock n’ roll mythologies aside, Youth & Young Manhood received a lot of positive attention from respected music journalists and fellow musicians (such as Noel Gallagher) alike. And although it didn’t make them wildly commercially successful or filthy stinking rich, the Kings of Leon became one of the more successful modern rock n’ roll bands around in 2003.
Come November 2004, the fascination with the folklore had finally subsided a little bit, and the Kings released Aha Shake Heartbreak. The NME predicted that this album would “piss all over Youth & Young Manhood, and indeed, it does. It’s been rendered a more mature, sober album, but go listen to ‘Soft’ – a tune about umm..err…not being able to get off, actually – and then try and talk to me about the maturity of it all. Regardless, you can’t help but love the sheer hedonism a song like this celebrates. For gods sake, even I sing along when Caleb screeches “I’m passed out in your garden, I’m in I can’t get off…soooo soft”
A favourite of mine is ‘Taper Jean Girl’, which beats along at a lovely pace that’ll get you wanting to bop your head. That being said, beware of this song – it can be quite embarrassing if you’re like me and just can’t help yourself while sitting alone on the subway. Along the lines of ‘Taper Jean Girl’ are ‘Slow Night, So Long’, ‘King of the Rodeo’, and ‘Four Kicks’, the first of which has a fast-paced sort of weariness about it. With lyrics like “She’s opened up just like she really knows me/I hate her face, but enjoy the company”, it becomes apparent that maybe those magazines that made claims concerning the Kings’ boozing, womanizing and partying weren’t as outrageous as they may have seemed. ‘King of the Rodeo’ and ‘Four Kicks’ both tell tales, and have a great energy about them. ‘The Bucket’, the first single off Aha, is a solid tune, and offers a slightly more polished, marketable sound than we’re used to hearing from the Kings.
Of course they’re still rockin’ their way through this album like they did Youth & Young Manhood, but at the same time there are some gorgeous slower tunes to be found here, which we only got a taste of with the breathtaking ‘Trani’ and awesome ‘Dusty’ on their debut. The fifth track, ‘Milk’, is our first glimpse of the quiet, thoughtful work on Aha. It’s a tune that, to be honest, doesn’t make much sense lyrically, and yet Caleb’s effective drawl makes lines like “she saw my combover, her hourglass body, she has problems with drinking milk and being school tardy” resonate with a shadowy importance. ‘Day Old Blues’ is obviously, well, bluesy, and includes a slightly off-putting yodel in the chorus. Strangely enough the yodel works, but it’s also the sort of thing that makes you want to turn down the volume of your earphones in case anybody can hear it. Nonetheless, it’s quite fun to sing along to in the privacy of your own home. The last track on the album (depending on if you have the import with the bonus track ‘Where Nobody Knows’ or not) is ‘Rememo’. If there’s any maturity in Aha at all, it’s at its best with this song. A waltz-like melody pulses evenly throughout, and it strongly reinforces the apologetic, even subdued tone of the lyrics.
Aha Shake Heartbreak is an album you can party to all night, and then nurse your hangover to the next morning. They’ve been called the southern-fried Strokes, compared to everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Allman Brothers Band, and now this album proves how inaccurate the original assumptions about the Kings of Leon actually were. With Aha Shake Heartbreak the Kings have created a style that’s all their own, and not without substance, either. It’s full of contradictions…notions of decadence, depravity, conscience, and even regret transcend Aha, making it a terrific modern record to check out. Simply put, as The Rolling Stones so eloquently said it back in 1974, “I know it’s only rock n’ roll but I like it, like it, yes I do!” [ END ]
01. Slow Night, So Long
02. King of the Rodeo
03. Taper Jean Girl
04. Pistol of Fire
06. The Bucket
09. Day Old Blues
10. Four Kicks
11. Velvet Snow
13. *Where Nobody Knows (UK import edition)
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