Only By The Night

Kings Of Leon

RCA, 2008

REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane


I am reluctantly weighing-in on this record because I don’t want to regurgitate what’s already been said in the onslaught of excruciatingly negative critical assessment with which Only By The Night has been plagued. Sadly, just about all of it is well-deserved, even if a great deal of it comes from critical outlets that have been dismissive of the Kings of Leon from the get go. The American music press seems to be virtually unanimous in their reduction of The Kings Of Leon to nothing more than cock-rocking, adolescent ego-maniacs. This reduction stands in stark contrast to KOL’s reputation across the pond: in England they are rock-royalty and everything they release is showered in constant praise by nearly every respected music magazine in the country and Only By The Night is no exception.

I’ve rallied behind KOL for years. To me, their first two records are rock ‘n’ roll masterpieces.

I hold these truths to be self-evident. 

Along with contemporaries like The Strokes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the White Stripes, the Kings Of Leon were positioned to be superheroes of the grass-roots rock-revivalism that was unfolding at the turn of the century. There’s a story that my friends tell about their being in attendance at a Strokes show just as Room On Fire was released and The Strokes were systematically changing the course of modern rock music forever. The Kings Of Leon were opening for The Strokes and according to my informants, KOL absolutely brought the house down and completely stole the spotlight from a band that was -- at the time -- arguably the most important rock band on earth.

With their shocking and exciting debut, Youth And Young Manhood, the Tennessee foursome, consisting of three brothers and one first cousin all by the last name Followill, developed a dedicated, underground cult following in Americamy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 and were one of the most electrifying and charming rock bands on the scene. Their sophomore release Aha Shake Heartbreak seemed to indicate the brothers were refining their sound, expanding their horizons, and it recruited even more people to their fan base. 2007’s Because Of The Times, although quite a departure from the rawness that made them so appealing in the beginning, was proof that -- at the very least -- the Kings Of Leon were versatile and ambitious. But in retrospect, that record was an indication that the band was perhaps heading in a direction that they’d be better served avoiding.

The only thing remotely “Kings Of Leon” about Only By The Night are Caleb Followill’s signature, bizarre and captivating vocals. Those are intact and sound as good here as they always do. Everything else is total trash. The production is muddy, the drum sound is muted and awful, the guitars sound thin and unremarkable, and the songs are uninspired, boring, formless, and…well…stupid. The songs are stupid.

The record’s first -- and hopefully only -- single “Sex On Fire,” although catchy, is about as adolescent and meaningless as its title suggests. “17” is a despicable pedophilic and poorly written wannabe “Hey Nineteen,” which would be a real good reason for parents to forbid their daughters from attending a KOL show. “Closer,” “Crawl,” “Notion,” “Be Somebody,” and “Cold Desert” are all eternally boring and go absolutely nowhere. “Manhattan” and “I Want You” are the only two decent tracks, but that’s not saying much when the barometer for their goodness is relative to their being positioned amongst some of the most awful music of the last ten years. The painfully embarrassing and laughable song “Use Somebody” is by far the worst on the record and is so confusingly trite and predictable it leaves you wondering whether or not these guys are serious or if Only By The Night is just a really expensive joke.

It’s difficult to articulate how wretched this album is. To say the least, it’s one of the worst of the year and has smeared -- in what will likely be an irreversible way -- the already deteriorating reputation of the Kings Of Leon.  What’s perhaps most tragic about it is that Only By The Night is clearly, similar to Because Of The Times, an attempt on their part to reach out to American record consumers so they can match their domestic reputation with that of their international one. If the eleven tracks on Only By The Night were KOL’s stab at arena-rock, which the formula seems to suggest, then they’ve failed beyond all conceivable recognition and what we get instead are eleven of the most vapid, insincere, and uninspired songs they’ve ever put on tape.

Only By The Night is a popular music blunder of epic proportions, an album so puzzlingly unpleasant and dishonest, it makes you wonder what you ever saw in this band to begin with, and given my sincere admiration for their earlier work, that’s a very sad conclusion to have reached.  Not only have they alienated this listener, but Only By The Night is sure to confirm the doubts held by people who never understood the Kings Of Leon anyway -- presumably the very same people to whom they are trying to reach out. 

Rating: F

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


The irony of this review is great. Not that I disagree with it, I don't. But this crap record did indeed propel KOL to super-Arena rock stardom and Use Somebody was a monster hit that has yet to stop playing on the radio. Doesn't make it good though.
WOW...I don't Know this band, but I'll take your advice and run if I see this at a store.

© 2008 Kenny S. McGuane and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA, and is used for informational purposes only.