Kings Of Leon – WALLS
Sex On Fire will forever be known as the song that turned Kings Of Leon from a little indie-rock act into one of the world’s biggest bands. A soaring stadium pop-rock song with an inescapable hook, the song propelled the band’s fourth album, Only By The Night, to the number one spot in five countries and turned KOL into seemingly overnight sensations.
But it wasn’t all good news for the Southern quartet. For every new fan gained KOL lost twice as many. Most claimed they had “sold out,” but this was far from the truth. While there’s no doubting their first two records – Youth And Young Manhood and Ah Shake Heartbreak – are steeped in Southern traditions with an undercurrent of indie-rock, third album Because Of The Times was the band testing the waters of what was to come. Combining the indie swagger that first gained them recognition with a broader pop soundscape and frontman Caleb Followill finally delivering lyrics in an intelligible manner, KOL were destined for crossover success.
As the band wrestled with their newfound fame on the disappointing Come Around Sundown and well-rounded Mechanical Bulls, seventh album WALLS finds the Followill clan finally comfortable with their place in the music world. Embracing stadium rock hooks, sing along choruses and aspects of the 70s sound filtered throughout their first two albums, KOL have delivered their best effort in years.
Singles Waste A Moment, Reverend and Around The World open proceedings, welcoming listeners with melodic riffs and Followill’s casual Southern twang. All three are big bold rock songs, with Waste A Moment the pick of the bunch. It’s the closest they’ve come to replicating the sheer likability of Sex On Fire without the cheesy chorus. Eyes is unmistakably KOL, with a raging bassline and a guitar riff made for the live arena, with Wild a country-rock head nodder that’s one of the albums weakest points.
Much of WALLS is inspired by death and self-destruction, pretty bleak subject matter when it comes to pop music, but KOL convey their feelings well over the course of the record’s 10 tracks. The six minute Over, inspired by Joy Division, attempts a post-punk sound as Followill sings about his battle with alcohol, drugs and fame. Find Me is about someone falling in love with a ghost, and the Mariachi-esque Muchacho is a dedication to a good friend of the band who recently passed away from cancer. The album’s self-titled track about a lost love is also the record’s best. Closing out WALLS, the tune is an acoustic slow burner allowing Followill room to express his unique vocal style over the light instrumentation. It’s their 2016 version of Milk, and along with opener Waste A Moment, is on par with the band’s best work yet.
KOL have finally embraced the pop-rock sound that shot them to stardom, and while old fans will whinge about them not sounding like they used to, WALLS is the best version of the band heard in years.
Verdict: If this was a school paper it would receive an A.
The Game – 1992
After numerous setbacks and a long winded beef with Meek Mill, West Coast rapper The Game finally delivers his much hyped 1992. Dedicated to 90s rap and focusing on Game’s outlook on the scene and Compton during the year he turned 12, 1992 is part rap throwback, part autobiography, with a sound firmly cemented in hip-hop’s golden age.
Reminiscent of the soundtrack he created for Streets Of Compton, 1992 showcases tales of gang life, drug dealing and murder in the streets of L.A. from the point of view of a young Game. Savage Lifestyle opens with a media clip from the Rodney King Riots before Game documents the problems that faced black men during that period, eerily echoing the same problems black men face today. The relationship between the Crips and Bloods is detailed on True Colors / It’s On, a song that also weaves tales of Game’s family members and samples Ice-T‘s legendary Colors.
As well as lyrically painting a picture of 92, Game samples many well known 90s track to ram the message home. Fuck Orange Juice keeps the nostalgia rolling by sampling Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five‘s iconic The Message, I Grew Up On Wu-Tang samples the New York collective’s C.R.E.A.M., and However Do You Want It, a laid back 90s beauty samples Soul II Soul‘s track of the same name.
While Game repeatedly said there would be no features on the album, a number of guest rappers and vocalists inevitably turn up. Osby Chill adds a verse to True Colors / It’s On and Jason Derulo provides the hook on Baby You, a track dedicated to Game’s ex and mother of two of his children, Tiffany Cambridge. All Eyez, a collaboration with Jeremih, was tacked on at the last minute to help with the album sales. It’s a decent R&B type tune with commercial appeal, with it’s biggest draw being production from Scott Storch.
Verdict: Another solid Game album.
Yelawolf – H.O.T.E.L. (House Of The Endless Life)
Southern rapper Yelawolf seemed to have the world at his feet when he signed with Eminem‘s Shady Records in 2011. Riding high off the success of his well received Trunk Muzik mixtape, Yelawolf quickly followed with his feature filled debut, Radioactive. While critics applauded his honest lyricism and merging of hip-hop styles across the album, he struggled to find a commercial footing, with many hip-hop fans writing him off as the Southern Eminem. Since then he’s released a number of mixtapes integrating hip-hop with his country roots, creating a strange yet alluring combination best heard on tracks such as Till It’s Gone and American You from last year’s Love Story, his best release yet.
As puts the final touches on his forthcoming third album, Trial By Fire, Yelawolf has also been working on a new website, Slumerican, that launched last week. To celebrate the site, he’s gifted fans new EP H.O.T.E.L. (House Of The Endless Life). The seven track release is another step forward in Yelawolf’s evolution as one of hip-hop’s most overlooked superstars.
The EP opens with the unusual Supersonic Alley Cat. This is four minutes of gentle instrumentation that goes off the deep end when the production turns into a futuristic space theme with Yelawolf dropping a rapid fire rap during the tracks final 30 seconds. It’s a strange introduction to H.O.T.E.L. and not really in line with the rest of the songs, aside from the short 45 second lost 70s rock themed In Love Tonight,
Known for his love of Chevys, You Should Have Known is another track that uses the famed American car as a metaphor for Yelawolf’s relationship with a woman. Throughout the song he makes reference to the car and raps about being with a woman more interested in his fame, eventually leaving her to pursue his true love, rap. Good Love is another song about a woman, although this time it’s about a one night stand, with Yelawolf rapping about, “smashin’ that ass from the back.”
The hip-hop country-rock hybrid that’s become more recognisable in his sound can clearly be heard on the aggressive Someday. Sampling Bob Seger’s classic of the same name, Yelawolf paints a vivid picture of trailer park life as he spits with a venom similar to Eminem over a haunting piano loop. This is Yelawolf at his best as he reveals his version of Southern life. “Broken bottles and trash in the grass of a Gadsden trailer park / I’m a fucking savage / I just woke up drunk and brushed my teeth with a soap bar / Blocks under that pickup truck.” Yelawolf also samples the intro to Royal Blood‘s Out Of The Black on the steely Renegades, going hand in hand with the 70s feel of Someday.
The biggest surprise with this EP is the appearance of Bubba Sparxxx. An early Timbaland protege who didn’t quite have the Missy Elliot effect (anyone else remember Ugly?), Sparxxx has been dropping albums over the past decade without much fanfare. His cameo on Be Yourself shouldn’t come as a shock, as he recently signed with Yelawolf, but his verse has no context. Yelawolf is rapping about being true to yourself and not caring what others think, while Sparxxx spits some gibberish before getting on the same page as Yelawolf with the words, “Be yourself.” That said, it’s good to hear him on a track and realise he’s still out there getting it done, despite nobody seemingly giving a fuck.
Verdict: H.O.U.S.E. continues Yelawolf’s evolution as one of the South’s most underrated MC’s.