Kings Of Leon – When You See Yourself
Released March 5th, 2021 on RCA Records
Once upon a time – so long ago now that it may as well be a different era entirely – Kings Of Leon were a buzzy up-and-coming indie band. A lot of this had to do with their backstory and the times; they were all brothers, the son of a Southern preacher man, the kind of band that traded in pastiche of the early 1970s and claimed it was the pure soul of rock ‘n’ roll. This was in tune with the times, when the White Stripes ruled the Earth and freak folk was spreading the idea that the period of 1968-1974 was the golden era of music. The band hit their peak in 2008 with “Sex On Fire” and fell off afterward. 2010’s Come Around Sundown got mixed reviews but sold well; their next two albums dropped the “sold well” from the equation.
When You See Yourself, the band’s first album in five years, is not much of a departure from their overall sound. It’s still arena rock without the pomp and drive that characterizes the best examples of that genre. It is, however, also more willing to engage in the sharper side of their personality, which is something that hasn’t been present on their last two albums. That doesn’t change the fundamental problem with Kings Of Leon, though, namely that they’re utterly boring. It amazes me that there are rabid fans of this band. Why? What drives a person to know the ins and outs of songs that ostensibly all revolve around the same idea: a meat-and-potatoes rhythm section, some simple guitar strumming that follows the rhythm, a soaring voice that seems to permeate every other instrument without ever settling on a solid melody. It’s Grizzly Bear without the prog elements. Despite all of this, however, it’s inescapable that, given the basic conceit of the band, this album is their best in eleven years. Mid-tempo mellow garage rock works better for them than syrupy synth work, even if 51 minutes of mid-tempo mellow garage rock is a solid recipe for an afternoon nap.
One last thing that has to be mentioned in respect to this record is their decision to release the album as an NFT in addition to the usual options. NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, which is a blockchain token that allows the purchaser not only access to the album but also grants the purchaser access to additional features -in this case, a special album package, tickets to a live show, and an audiovisual extra. It’s basically the same things people tried as CD extras before Napster but largely abandoned because they were easy prey for piracy; NFTs take piracy out of the equation for various reasons too long to get into here but which are inherent to the whole idea of the blockchain. Sounds fun and all, but I’m starkly reminded of a line from Josh Tillman: “Try not to think so much about / The truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record / All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining, the high gloss / The tape and the gear.” Now try not to think so much about the truly staggering amount of energy it takes to solve crypto equations. Vinyl is environmentally problematic; crypto is somehow even worse for the environment. “Try not to dwell so much upon / How it won’t be so very long from now that they laugh at us for selling / A bunch of 15-year-olds made from dinosaur bones singing ‘oh yeah’ / Again and again / Right up to the end.”