Album Review: Kings Of Leon – When You See Yourself

7.5/10

Kings Of Leon When You See Yourself 1

The job of being standard bearers for American rock doesn’t come with an instruction manual, not that Kings of Leon appointed themselves to the role anyway, or that they would probably read up on it if they had the chance.

If there’s a chapter or two in such a tome about rebellion and bad behaviour, well the clan Followill has already been there, done that, had the meltdown.

But even hellraisers get mortgages, and the over-partying has been gradually getting exorcised from collective systems since their fourth album Only By The Night earned them a domestic commercial breakthrough.

These days, domesticity is where the quartet are proudly at; When You See Yourself was made entirely in a state of familial accord, with allegedly not one punch being thrown during the process. It seems, temporarily at least, the high-profile internecine fractiousness is a thing of the past.

The foursome has also come in for a fair amount of stick recently for the manner in which they reluctantly wear any sort of crown, but whilst 2016’s Walls lacked the belly-fire of old, it was certainly not the creative failure some critics suggested.

How much hunger they retain is probably a fairer question, but alongside producer Markus Dravis this is a package unlikely to cause much angst for a fanbase probably growing older with them.

Without the external stimulus of life on the megatour, they have instead turned inwards for inspiration: on the mellifluous Time In Disguise, they muse collectively on the transparency of that existence, reluctant leader Caleb posing the question: ‘Close your eyes and what do you see?/Is it a man or masked machine?’, while inevitably the process of getting older is handled on the ruminant closer Fairytale: ‘There will be a time out there on the line/When you know you’ve had enough’, the music a drifting tilt at their version of classic Americana.

Kings Of Leon are brave enough to flip the fear too on Golden Restless Age, on which they recall but don’t reproduce the propulsive strut they embodied themselves way back on the squall of Molly’s Chambers, while Supermarket – reworked from a number previously introduced on Instagram as Going Nowhere – gently handles the topic of salvation by putting faith in people, the sun shining through clouds of self-doubt.

There’s also a contemporary feel to Claire & Eddie’s topical handling of climate change issues, but those who might be worried they’ve forgotten how to write one of those tremulous, high-octane numbers on which reputations were built will have been relieved to hear The Bandit’s throb, while the almost titular (adding the question, Are You Far Away?) opener teeters at the edge of cutting loose, simmering but never quite causing the flood it threatens to.

All in all, lanes are stayed in. After Walls it appeared that an option might be to down the same route as The Killers in veering towards Europhile pop, but although there’s an undeniable mellowness in play, the slide guitar and bluesy howl of Stormy Weather proves the men once known as the Southern Strokes retain most of their latent power.

That though is the real qualifier. Youth And Young Manhood has gone for the Followills, along with all the good and bad things that come with that era.

Instead, it’s what stares back from the mirror that dominates the skyline of When You See Yourself, a place where the intersection of happiness and uncertainty prompts a less bombastic, introverted collection searching for answers.

They might as well retire that handbook now, because Kings of Leon will always write their own script, one that at present is still more than rewarding enough for the faithful.

Andy Peterson

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