|Kings of Leon
Youth & Young Manhood Label: RCA
See, I told you so. History is damned to repeat itself, at least in the case of Kings of Leon in this wonderful new release year that is 2003. Six months ago their teaser EP, Holy Roller Novocaine, merely insinuated that these brash Midwestern laddies were all that. I compared them to The Animals, Tom Petty and, yes, The Strokes. I also promised a full-length debut release later this year and it’s here. Oh, and just so you know, they are all that!
Good news for those who passed over earlier reviews of the dazzling Holy Roller Novocaine: Kings of Leon have done you the favor of including all five songs previously released on that EP herein on their official unveiling, Youth & Young Manhood. You diehards who ran out and devoured the first effort will find surprising reward, too, as the Followills, with the ever-capable hands of Ethan Johns behind the mixing board, manage to shake up the previous tracks and make them fit seamlessly in this new work of art. “California Waiting” is the most noticeably reworked flash from Novocaine, when it jumps out to such a vehement pace that you think it might clock in this time at less than a minute. Anyone who thought this cut would be their best shot at breaking into radio will probably agree that the stripped-down August version is not as slick, not nearly as dreamy. So what?
I truly believe that these post-pubescent sons of hippies are musically mature beyond their years, not to mention hell bent on turning the guitar rock genre on its ass since the Black Crowes bowed out two years ago. To that end, Caleb Followill couldn’t care less about Top 40 radio or his guest appearance on TRL with Carson what’s-his-name. Instead, he wants to flex the young muscles of this band through the unapologetic riffs they learned from Zeppelin and his Iggy Pop-like wails (see “Trani”). “The thrills are cheap and love divine,” the front Followill persuades on the equally 1970s mock-up “Dusty,” with a certain conviction that can’t be easily packaged and would never stand next to Madonna at the Video Music Awards.
“Red Morning Light” and “Happy Alone” set this striking new documentation to fire, and do so by not skipping a beat from the unrefined panic and true grit of the first record. I’ve stacked too many comparisons in my own mind where the Kings are concerned to even begin mentioning here. But if you love the White Stripes lately for trudging through 20 or 30 years of classic rock to pour the foundation for their sound, then you will more than value the reckless abandon of Kings of Leon. These guys write songs and scratch guitars and howl through choruses like all of our idols. Influences aside, Youth & Young Manhood is a bona fide must-own for every reason you would read a stranger’s review and go shopping in the first place.