Has the fire in Kings of Leon's collective belly finally been extinguished? Their fourth album, 'Only By the Night', would certainly suggest that the embers are barely glowing, at least when held up to their first two albums - the hip-shaking, driving southern rock of 'Youth and Young Manhood' and 'Aha Shake Heartbreak'. Heck, even 2006's 'Because of the Times' contained enough quality tracks to appease those who had previously sniffed at their brassy insolence, even if it signalled a re-jigging of their blues-tinted formula for a more sombre, brooding direction.
Only By the Night is a continuation of that development; but it's likely that fans will be surprised, and perhaps disappointed by the Tennessee quartet's latest offering, as its stripped-down, less bombastic nature also means that the majority of the material is reliant on Caleb Followill's lyrics and bluesy drawl - neither of which are particularly formidable.
In fact, there isn't a single track here that gets the blood pumping with gusto. True, there are a number of midtempo stadium-rock crowd-pleasers (Use Somebody, Notion, Be Somebody) that are reminiscent of U2, but Followill's claim that he'd written 'the best songs of his life' while strung out on pain medication at least explains the spacey, slow-burning vibe of many of these tracks, which are incredibly pedestrian. Redemption-of-sorts is proffered, however, on the interesting 17 - which utilises church bells, a clatter of drums and a nifty knowledge of melodies and tempos to impressive effect, and on the considered Manhattan, all springy bassline and Paul Simon-style guitar riffs.
It's admirable, perhaps, that Kings of Leon are trying to take steps into new territory instead of relentlessly flogging the 'uptempo blues-rock' formula. But almost entirely forgoing the distinctive quality that's framed your career, in favour of sombre ballads? This is just about acceptable, but far from amazing.