Southern-boy sensations experience growing pains on difficult second album

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Score 2

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Royal Flux

“The best rock’n’roll,” reckons Keith Richards, “is about teamwork.” No one needs to tell the Kings Of Leon. Their debut, 2002’s Youth And Young Manhood, melded wide-eyed Allman Brothers/Creedence-style Southern rock to student disco-compatible post-Strokes indie, going on to sell over half a million copies. It was also the product of some highly organised teamwork: the implausibly young (bassist Jared is still only 18) and implausibly good-looking Nashville quartet acted as a front for a studio ringer (Angelo), a stylist and, seemingly, a biographer steeped in William Faulkner. The story of the three Followill brothers (plus guitarist cousin Matthew) and their alcoholic preacher-man dad travelling the South in a battered estate car spreading the gospel could almost have been taken from Robert Duvall’s Louisiana melodrama The Apostle. The great storyline, though, was only one part of their perfection, alongside great songs and beards.

Written in a few weeks in Nashville but then recorded in LA, this time round the Kings are forced to act out a more prosaic plot?the difficult second album. Angelo and former producer Ethan Johns have been retained, but where their debut was sun-dappled and airy enough to release four singles from, Aha Shake Heartbreak is almost defiantly dense and prickly. Ditching the rock radio choruses is a brave move, as is the bold?some might say foolhardy?step of introducing yodelling to the mix on “Day Old”. Elsewhere, though, this feels like a step backwards: opener “Slow Nights, So Long” recalls the graceless lurch of The Wedding Present. Proof that Aha… is nothing more than the uncomfortable sound of a band escaping their svengali, though, comes with the fact that the two best songs (“King Of The Rodeo” and single “Bucket”) are ones written entirely by the Followills. It doesn’t matter that Aha… is a slight falter. Left to their own devices next time round, the Kings might produce something truly special.