Caleb Followill claimed he could kick my ass. Specifically, he sang, “You talkin’ bout my baby/I could flip you upside down and I could mop this place.” This seemed highly doubtful. After all, Caleb was wearing what appeared to be women’s jeans and a vest with nothing underneath it.
Then again, Kings of Leon have always done an amazing job of asserting themselves without necessarily having the goods, and that’s kind of the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. Nothing ironic here: The Southern band of (mostly) brothers favors lyrics almost exclusively about fucking, fighting, and drinking, powered by brawling guitar riffs and locomotive strength. They also have a funny, distinctly glam way of toying with rock conventions of masculinity: In one moment Caleb sang about underage girls, and in the next he was yowling about cross-dressing and erectile dysfunction. “Soft”—their whiskey-dick lament—was played at twice its normal speed, with the band just barely holding onto the reins as it sped happily toward premature ejaculation. All told, the Kings fit almost three albums’ worth of material (all they have, really) into an hour and a half.
So what’s wrong with all that? Rock, corrupted by the effect of big concepts on small minds, already has too many preening voice-of-a-generation poseurs—and not enough bullshit artists. Paradoxically, the greater the Kings’ sonic ambitions become, the less they have to say. In new tunes like “Charmer”—a histrionic vamp that sounds like “Pretty Woman” gone death metal—language falls entirely by the wayside. At Roseland, Caleb pretty much screamed his way through the whole song.
Essentially, the Kings’ new Because of the Times is an experiment in how far the Kings can go fueled by meat-and-potatoes rock traditions, style, and the sheer force of their own presence. More often than not, that’s pretty far. The funny thing about this band is that all the things about them that people deride—the clichés, the arrogance, the simplicity—are the same things others celebrate as classic rock ‘n’ roll brilliance. Caleb is skinny enough to fit somewhere in between.