KINGS OF LEON Youth & Young Manhood (Handmedown)
To be honest, I wasn't particularly convinced by "Youth & Young Manhood" at first. There's the whole "Sons Of A Preacher Man" backstory to contend with, and cover art suspiciously similar to that of a Manfred Mann compilation I own. But successive spins revealed that they, musically at least, are as chunkily authentic and 4 real as you could hope. Only the packaging - the modish double 10" vinyl pressing, hidden track, website address and barcode, for example - marks this album out as having any kind of acquaintance with the last three decades. The music is of a kind that reached the end of its evolutionary cycle in 1973 at the absolute latest. The sharp, flab-free three minute ditties suggest their tastes veer more towards ZZ Top than the Allman Brothers Band, but in doing so add a healthy dose of radio-friendliness to what might otherwise seem like alien planet rock. (I read that Kings Of Leon get played on Radio 2, which is a sign of something, at least.)
The Kings Of Leon sound is defined by Caleb Followill's thick, hoarse vocals - perhaps what Julian Casablancas might have sung like if he'd grown up in the deepest South, a mesh of twangling guitars and Ethan Johns' rudimentary production. And it's shaped by some darn fine songs: "Joe's Head" belies its Sunday morning sunshine chime with lyrical preoccupations more normally the preserve of Nick Cave in his less cheery moments (as far as can be determined, Caleb's diction not being the most precise), whilst that hidden and untitled closer is possibly where the band ascend to a towering peak, a heartbroke and busted piece of country piano magic bemoaning small town confinement.
You might wonder how long they can sustain a career based on such staunch artistic purity - it's certainly hard to imagine any band less likely to suddenly discover a dance element to their music, for example. And perhaps a second Kings Of Leon album might be as utterly unnecessary as a follow-up to "Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols". Nevertheless, for now, and possibly forever, "Youth & Young Manhood" is an understated yet epic ramble that will make you smile whether you remember it from first time around or not.