Kings Of Leon: The Judges’ Verdict

Today, the judges discuss Kings Of Leon's "Only By The Night". Quite lively, this one.

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Today, the judges discuss Kings Of Leon’s “Only By The Night”. Quite lively, this one.

Bob Harris: Well, we’re now moving into my four favourites of the eight, and this is my album of the year. I tried to fight against it, in the sense that it’s so popular and it’s already done so well. There’s a whole number of things about it for me, first of all it’s got a touchpoint with Nashville, and I do think Nashville is currently the music capital of the world right now. The calibre of musicianship is so high, there’s a kind of organic feeling to the city which I really like. Kings Of Leon also has that thing of lifestyles spilling into the music, there’s a dynamism to it that I really like.


It also has – and I don’t see this as a bad thing at all – a cross-generational appeal. It’s a favourite of my 17-year-old son, as well as being my favourite of the year. On top of all that, “Sex On Fire” just sits there week after week in the download chart, still in the mid-20s, and it’s been there ever the album first came out, and that in itself says something to me about the longevity of individual tracks on the album.

Billy Bragg: I’m in a very difficult position with Kings Of Leon in my house, because my missus loves them and my son hates them. I’m in neither camp, I’m non-committal about them, really. I liked their first album more than I liked this one, which I really didn’t get. I can’t get as enthusiastic as you, Bob, especially as we’re really getting down to the most interesting albums on the list. I can see why they’re popular, they put on great live shows, and it’s great to hear guitar music the way they’re using it, and unlike the Grizzlies they do have that light and shade in there, but it’s not something that I feel particularly strongly about championing.

Bob: To what extent to do you Kings Of Leon, and maybe Kasabian, are the last of the great popular rock bands? We seem to be coming to the end of the line with something, don’t you think?


Billy: I don’t think so, I think each generation has to get hold of that in a different way. I’d put Kings Of Leon above Kasabian, I think Kasabian are a part of the Oasis thing rather than doing something more interesting. I think Kings Of Leon are, for their generation, a pathfinder. The way they’re doing it, I want them to succeed in wherever it is they’re going, but this particular album doesn’t really go anywhere for me.

Bob: I wasn’t making a comparison with Kasabian, and I take your point completely, but there haven’t been that many bands emerging in the last few years. Kasabian have been around for some time, and they’re one of the few big breakthrough bands in terms of sales, as are Kings Of Leon.

Allan Jones: Well, I think it’s a really good album, but it just gives up all its secrets too quickly, too apparently. With something like Grizzly Bear, it’s like walking to a room you’ve been in before but every time you walk into it the furniture has been slightly rearranged. You discover something new every time. With Kings Of Leon, it’s exactly the same every time, I never get any more out of it. It’s a big, exciting rock record but I’m not engaged hugely by it, despite its massive familiarity or its pan-generational appeal.

Dave Robinson: I concur with Bob. I think this is a cracker, because the progression of this band has been good. It’s better than their earlier records, they’ve developed into something really good. I love their style, to me it’s folk music in a rock idiom, which is pretty much what I’ve always been interested in. Again, because it’s so popular, you think it maybe shouldn’t be on this list, you want to try and fight against the idea of going for something so obvious, but at the end of the day the general public do occasionally latch on to something that is cool and exciting.

The other thing about it is that I don’t believe they’ve been especially successful in America, they thought the Brits had gone mad when they took to it. I’m Irish, I’m not anti-British, but I really don’t like English music by and large, I only like it when it’s got a folk influence. I thought The Beatles were folk, for example. I thought The Rolling Stones were crap, I thought Queen were a complete abortion, I couldn’t believe people were singing along to those dodgy old operatics. I could never understand why England likes thespian ham music. Bob’s been more articulate than me on this, but I think this is a great record, it’s a stunning progression of the group, I love their family orientation and their backwoods vibe.

Rachel Unthank: I’ve been having to bite my tongue here. I feel really emotional about music, as I’m sure everyone here does, but I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. They drive me mad, I just think they’re awful. I agree with Billy’s son, and I agree with the Americans. The way he sings is not honest. I think they take themseves far too seriously, there’s no humour there, not a trace of humour throughout the entire album. The way he sings is full of histrionics – not in an experimental way, but in a “I am sexy, I am a rock singer” way. I just find myself thinking “oh, shut up!”.

Tinariwen have got more rock ‘n’ roll in their little fingers than any of that band have. “My Sex Is On Fire”? What a ridiculous name for a song – aaarrrrgggh! They drive me mad! I couldn’t believe I had to listen to it again once it made the shortlist of eight, to be honest. It incenses me. They’re supposed to be a rock band, they’re supposed to incite passion and sex and something raw, but they’ve just got a big fat load of gloss and put it all over the record. There is no light and shade, it’s just… fakeness. And I hate them. Well, I don’t hate them – that’s a bit mean. I just don’t get it, I’m sorry. I’m really shaking just thinking about them.

Dave: But what do you really mean, Rachel?!

Rachel: I mean, how can you say that this is good and some of these other records aren’t? I feel like I’m being sold something, I really do. I’m just being sold an idea of what a rock band is. It makes me angry, I’m sorry.

Billy: See, they just bounce off me, I wish I felt as passionate about it, one way or the other. You are right, though; one of things that always pissed me off about Oasis was that they had no sense of knowing, there was nothing in the way of knowingness in regards of what a silly-arsed job being in a band is. I want a bit of that from my stadium rock bands, because it is a silly-arsed job. You don’t get that with the Kings Of Leon, they are a bit po-faced.

Rachel: They think they’re the real deal.

Mark Cooper: It’s interesting to me that you kick off so much about the record, because I know that some people have problems with what they perceive as an old-school sexist element to their lyrics, but I haven’t really ever listened to their lyrics.

Rachel: I didn’t really get engaged enough to listen to the lyrics that closely, to be honest.

Mark: I think it’s really hard to judge this record against the others. I think it’s a really great mainstream record, I think it’s brilliantly produced, I love its dynamism, I love the fact that all the sounds on it really grab you. A lot of these records are very blissed out, but I love the tension of Kings Of Leon, it’s what I loved about a band like, say, Television. The sounds on this record kick against each other, if they were balls they’d be zooming around a pinball machine. I think the arrangements are great, for a guitar band, I love the singer’s voice, I think it’s really soulful and moving. I think they are utterly po-faced, but I sometimes think that isn’t a bad thing in rock ‘n’ roll band, there’s an element of pomp in a lot of great rock bands. Yes, it can go too far, but I don’t this record does. I’ve got four children, aged nine to 23, and they all like this record.

Rachel: That’s because it’s average and is therefore less likely to draw an enthusiastic response, maybe.

Mark: Well, I don’t think they like it because it’s average, they like it because it’s great pop-rock music. They engage with it instantly. That’s not my way of judging music, and I think the Grizzly Bear record is way better than this, but this is a great mainstream record and there aren’t that many great mainstream records these days. I personally don’t think there’s any point in making the Kings Of Leon the record of the year, because two-and-half million people in the UK have already bought it and they’re really happy with it. I like advocacy, I like turning people on to stuff they’ve not had a chance to hear, and we wouldn’t be turning anyone on by making Kings Of Leon the winner. Maybe that’s unfair, it should be a purely aesthetic issue, but I don’t see the point of going too populist when choosing a winner.

Allan: I think it’s in the spirit of Uncut to advocate, rather than focus on music that is already really accessible.

Dave: Well, Allan, I kind of took it that the best album would be the best album that you put on and don’t take off until the end. Lets’ find the record that cooks, where somebody’s thought about the running order, so that there’s a nice graph of interest or whatever. I love what Rachel had to say, I think she should have her own radio show with people sending her product every week, but the Kings Of Leon ticks a lot of boxes for me.

Tony Wadsworth: I agree with a lot of what Rachel says about this album, probably not quite as strongly! I really like the earlier Kings Of Leon stuff, it was a lot spikier, and I think the problem for me with an album like this is that it is very glossily produced, and a lot of the character seems to have been taken out of it. If you’re examining it with your head it’s all there, it’s really well produced, the sound is crystal-clear, he’s got an amazing voice, but does any of it make you weep or whatever? No, it really doesn’t move me. If I hear a track on the radio I actually prefer it to most other things you hear on the radio, but to listen to it as an album… er, I don’t want to, really.

Mark: But it’s a mass record, it’s a record you hear standing in a field and want to sing along to, and it sounds great on the radio. I think you’re right, it’s a harder record to appreciate on a panel like this, when you’re perhaps talking about records that you develop a close personal relationship with. Maybe it’s a record you can admire and sing along to – (looks at Rachel) unless you hate it – more than you can feel like you’ve discovered.

Bob: I agree with you, Mark. My radio programmes are all about discovery. I like to put something like Kings Of Leon into the running order to slice the programme up with the occasional note of familiarity, but then you back to the real purpose of what you’re doing, which is to play music that will be fresh and new to the listeners. I think Mark’s right, because if we finished up with Kings Of Leon as the winner we wouldn’t be taking anyone anywhere other than where they already are. I love it and it’s probably the first thing on this list that I’d put on at home, but in terms of our combined efforts this afternoon I don’t think it would be the right choice for the award.


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