Kings of Leon’s 5th album finds them regaining a bit of their former swagger but while Mechanical Bull has some cheap thrills, it fails to make a lasting impression.
If Come Around Sundown saw the Followill clan drift a bit too far into middle of the road AOR territory, Mechanical Bull is a clear attempt to return to their roots. Opening number and lead single Supersoaker has an easy-going charm to it even if it isn’t especially impactful but it’s just the first part of an initially promising upward curve. Rock City features some silly riffing and even sillier lyrics but things really kick into gear with Don’t Matter, a driving, dirty rocker the likes of which Kings of Leon haven’t put out in a while. This is immediately followed by the slow-burning Beautiful War, a stately ballad chronicling a turbulent relationship that would have sounded right at home on Only By The Night. Back-to-back, these two tracks make a great juxtaposition and form the album’s backbone. Sadly, this backbone is placed far too early and simply can’t support 11 songs.
There are a few other highlights – Family Tree sticks out thanks to a funky bass riff while the shimmering Wait For Me is gorgeous and probably the best track here. But after that…It’s not that the remainder of the album is bad by any means but the memorable moments definitely stop coming around the half way mark. After that what’s left is just a blur of inoffensive, Southern tinged background music.
It’s a real shame too – four tracks in and it seems Mechanical Bull might just be building to greatness. Then the engine stutters and shortly after the 20 minute mark it gives out entirely. To be fair, closing number On The Chin is a surprisingly sweet ballad that ends things on a good note but then, it’s filling albums – not ending them – that has always been Kings of Leon’s problem. The two extra tracks that come on the deluxe edition are utterly unmemorable too which suggests that a lack of good material, rather than poor editing, is responsible.
After the disappointing Come Around Sundown, Mechanical Bull is a tentative step back in the right direction for Kings Of Leon. There are a couple of legitimately great songs here and fans will probably enjoy a few more too. Here’s hoping that next time they can truly deliver on the wild ride promised by the title.