On October 14, Kings of Leon released their seventh album, WALLS, aiming to, after 13 years of releasing music, finally reach the number one spot on Billboard’s charts. The day finally came for this four-piece southern rock band, earning the top sales of the week and the number one spot they’ve been striving to claim for so long.
But what I find most interesting is figuring out why now? Is this album really the best representation of their band?
Spoiler alert: I’m not sold it is.
What does it even mean to be “authentic” is today’s realm of the music industry, where every artist feels the pressure to, in some cases, desperately try to become unique among their predecessors, contemporaries, or even their own past albums. I think it is clear when taking a look into WALLS that the Kings of Leon felt the need to revamp its branding to garner more appeal.
It’s a strange type of battlefield — the way sometimes an artist/band’s original ethos or core identity has to take a strange, obscure shift to engage our millennial generation’s tendency to expect more than just the music and instead crave an accompanying story or artistic aesthetic.
We millennials can’t really help always wanting, well, more. But is more always better?
I’m here to say not always. In an industry where the social media behind a band/artist is imperative to potential widespread success, the pressure to perfect an image is very apparent. But does the level of PR, full of eccentric new forms of original art and aesthetics, match up with the music? The real issue lies within deciding if the actual music can live up to the grandiose branding behind a band.
Let’s take a listen (and look) at Kings of Leon’s brand new album WALLS and see if their fresh, though quite odd, branding was a bit too fervid when matched with the new 10 tracks.
In past albums such as “Come Around Sundown” (2010) and “Mechanical Bull” (2013), Kings of Leon’s branding comes across as subdued, a bit nostalgic, and even a little dark. Their newest album showcases a completely different aesthetic; pastel shades of pink and light blue, strangely eerie, almost barbie-like versions of themselves dunked in a milky liquid, and a new wardrobe. Album art includes strange photographs with objects ranging from fake full lashes, eyeball shaped wrapped candies, ripe cherries, and lots and lots of milky water and even bald heads.
So what does this massive image change represent? A significant advance in their music style sonically? Again, I’m not sold.
There are hints at subtle new advances, most likely due to their new producer, Markus Dravs, but I’m still left wanting more. Though it should be noted, this album carries a few tracks worth congratulating for their credible, raw emotion.
For example, “Muchacho” hints at the sentimentality of friendship, while the title track “WALLS” will leave you with a pit in your stomach with lyrics like “you tore out my heart, you threw it away. The western girl with eastern eyes, took a wrong turn and found surprise awaits. Now there’s nothing in the way,” while the track “Over” deals with themes of suicide and death.
Yet Kings of Leon’s all around sound stays congruent with Caleb Followill’s (frontman/lead vocalist) previous vocals and the band’s instrumentals heard on their previous six albums.
So I’m left questioning if the music business pushed this image change on them, craving for them to reach branding heights not meant for them, or rather not fit for them, because, while the songs are beautiful in their own right, I don’t hear the shifts the images alluded to.