Reviewed by: Nate Adams
The band has chosen to handle this pressure by releasing its best album in years.
Mechanical Bull goes a long way to erase the grandiose mistakes of the group’s two most successful-yet-empty records (Only by the Night and Come After Sundown), turning its focus away from pompous U2 aping and focusing more on what got them here in the first place: small-scale rock songs about fucking.
It’s certainly not an album without problems. Songs like “Rock City” and “Family Tree” suggest that it might not be good to look back, lest the band find a sound it can no longer recreate. The former is an ineffective would-be bar rock song that a younger band, a band with more fervor, would knock out of the park. The latter is an ill-advised jumble of roots rock that sounds silly from the dudes who’s most famous song is about road head. “Beautiful War” suffers from the same bloat that plagued the worst parts of Come After Sundown, and “Tonight” is another example of lame balladry from a band that should just cut out balladry altogether.
Still, there is an unassuming, simple quality to the album’s best songs that more than make up for its missteps. Opener “Supersoaker” is reminiscent of the group’s percussive early singles. “Don’t Matter” does all the things “Rock City” fails to do, even ripping an honest-to-god classic rock solo right in the middle of the track. “Comeback Story” has a lyrical edge that puts it above most of the band’s late output. The album’s two strongest tracks, “Temple” and “Wait for Me,” come back-to-back in the middle of the run and serve to remind why these guys became huge in the first place. Both sound ready-made for stadiums without being overwrought or overt; it sounds less like the band was trying to make giant, echoing hits and more like it was trying to make good, mid-tempo rock that just happens to be huge.
It fact, the real appeal of Mechanical Bull is that so much of it sounds effortless. There are obvious themes of redemption and rededication, both in the band’s efforts to recapture its old sound and because they named two songs “Comeback Story” and “Coming Back Again” (Kings of Leon are not a subtle band). However, so much of the album just feels like a family band getting back together to rediscover what they like about making rock. It might not knock Imagine Dragons off the charts, but it’s the album the band needed to make, and one worthy of both it’s old fans and it’s new.