Now HERE'S a band who didn't take an ill-advised step towards the mainstream upon becoming famous!
Kings Of Leon's debut album is still one of the most optimistic sounds of the decade even now, six years and chav anthem Sex On Fire down the line. Its raucous riffs and scathing lyrics brought back a bygone era of blues-rock, but with an added sense of fun.
The Followill family - one cousin and three brothers, one of whom (bassist Jared) is sickeningly young, being 16 when the album was released and having learned the bass in the month before their first release - were famously indoctrinated into the Lawd from an early age, having a travelling Evangelist minister for a father (or in one case, uncle). Complete with raw talent, Southern music values and a rare combination of youthful exuberance and world-weary wisdom - not to mention beards - they offered something different, and considerably better, to an overstocked indie market.
Their first adolescent offering Youth & Young Manhood delivered in exactly the way it needed to. Packed with alternative anthems (Molly's Chambers, Red Morning Light) but in full knowledge of the need for some slow temperance (Trani and the brilliant Dusty), it's well-balanced, uplifting and, beneath the surface, very dirty.
A selection of lyrics from the album:
You always like it undercover
Tucked in between your dirty sheets
But no one's even done nothin' to ya
In between the hollers and the screams
Cheap trick hookers that are hanging out at the bar in the Greyhound station
And the bare-chested boys that are going down on everything that the momma believes
On our knees, we'll feast on the sex show
They all come to the party and there's four to every stall
It gets frustratin', just pissin' on this wall
White, barenaked in the night, just looking for some play
It's OK, I'll give it anyway - just get me out of here
You'll plead, you'll get down on your knees for just another taste
We shouldn't be surprised the album is so incredibly sex-orientated - their follow-up has a song about erectile dysfunction - but it is one in the eye for those who assume they're child-friendly. It's a good thing they can't understand what Caleb's saying, I suppose.
What a voice though. There's a cliché about singers such as he: that they've been 'gargling with razorblades'. Apart from the fact their beards (now gone, sadly) suggest they probably didn't own razorblades at the time, it's more a case of smoking 89 fags a day and drinking whisky-flavoured sewage. Every strangled yelp is a delight, from the end of Trani to the end of Joe's Head. At points his voice just gives out altogether, which somehow makes it even better.
Final song (secret track Talihina Sky excluded) and best on the album (nothing excluded) Holy Roller Novocaine is a real puzzler in this respect: you presume it's about sex because all the other songs are, and it is - but what the hell is he saying in the chorus? "I don't give a damn"? "Love's gonna get us there"? It's "Lord's gonna get us back" apparently, which gives you a good example of the tone of the album's two founding principles: sex and religious determinism.
And what good principles they are.
Great voice, great band (still - just), great first offering.