Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is Kings of Leon's 'Because of the Times'.
Long before they married models and could sell out arenas worldwide, Kings of Leon were climbing the ladder of rock and roll royalty. The Followill clan (brothers Nathan, Caleb and Jared, and cousin Matthew) were coming off the back of two good albums of ballsy, snarling swamp rock in the form of 2003's 'Youth and Young Manhood' and 2005's 'Aha Shake Heartbreak'. Their bouncy debut and slightly more measured follow-up achieved moderate success in Ireland and the UK but made few waves back home in the States, so dare they shake things up for album number three?
Arena support slots throughout 2005 and 2006 for U2, Pearl Jam and Bob Dylan meant the quartet were getting a taste for the expansive. Watching these musical institutions night after night left an impression on Caleb. He went on to say in 2007 that he hoped one day Kings of Leon could reach the level of U2 and acknowledged that getting there would require a lot of hard work. And work hard they did. The band was spending time songwriting during soundcheck in these cavernous spaces, getting an idea of what was possible when scaling up your sound.
After two album cycles of partying, the impending hangover was coming. The band had grown weary of people sidelining their music to talk about their partying. When that was coupled with a need for drugs just to keep the show on the road it was clear a different approach was necessary.
'Because of the Times' wastes no time letting you know things are going to be different. Whilst 'Red Morning Light' and 'Slow Night, So Long' opened previous albums with rousing guitar riffs, opening track Knocked Up takes a far more subdued approach. It eases itself in with a shuffling drum beat and hypnotic, looping bassline whilst Matthew makes the most of his newly delayed and reverbed guitar.
On top of all this Caleb spins us a yarn of a young couple sticking it to their parents and/or society by insisting they're going to keep their baby. Storytelling is nothing new for this band but we're far removed now from the tardy, bar-tending woman we heard about on Milk. Knocked Up is the seven-minute palate cleanser that drains every last drop of excess from years of debauchery. It's also larger than anything that came before it, both in its sonic palate and its ambition. There's enough big sounds on here that we wouldn't be surprised if U2 noticed some of their gear had gone missing by the time they got home.
The shuffling pace doesn’t last too long however as hot on its heels is Charmer, possibly the best Pixies song they never wrote. The tempo is ramped up and the pace becomes restless. With its vocal wails and throbbing bassline, its Debaser on steroids. Charmer is so shameless in its origins that it’s hard to believe they’re playing the track with a straight face.
When this record rocks, it feels like they still give a shit. It’s like the band have a fire under their feet and they believe every note they’re playing. The ludicrously titled McFearless is three minutes of Caleb snarling about how he’s going to silence the band's critics. This is underpinned by a whirl of jittery drums, paranoid bass and a wailing guitar line that shows funk musicians don’t have exclusive rights over the use of wah pedals. Whereas My Party is LCD Soundsystem if the grew teeth and became even slightly menacing and Black Thumbnail is a rousing rallying call about fears of committing.
McFearless, Black Thumbnail and My Party are the first time Kings of Leon have sounded so rooted and muscular. They’ve done rocky numbers before like Four Kicks and Wasted Time but they always felt bouncy and lightfooted. This is the first time they feel so firm footed and steadfast. Whilst we still get rocky numbers from them these days like Don't Matter, they lack any of the ferocity found on this record. It must be a bit more difficult to act like the underdog after you've released Sex on Fire.
It's not all rockers and seven-minute sagas though. The flip side of the record takes a slower, more measured approach. True Love Way, The Runner and Trunk bringing us down to a more leisurely pace.
The album also gives us the band's first proper go at an anthem, in the form of the slightly incomprehensible Fans. This acoustically-led love letter to their fans on this side of the Atlantic went on to become the bands highest charting UK single until Sex on Fire came along a year later to change everything.
Closing the album is Arizona, a contender for the most beautiful song written about a brothel. Musically, it’s the more mature older sibling of their earlier song, Day Old Blues. It’s a song so cinematic you can basically see the end credits roll across the screen as the song fades away.
This record did a lot to set the stage for the second half of their career. The backing vocals on McFearless and On Call are both precursors for their mega hit to come, Use Somebody. Whilst the large scale production became the memorandum of operation for pretty much everything since, all reverb drenched and capable of reaching the cheap seats.
Is it a little long? Perhaps. At 52 minutes and 13 tracks, it still stands as their longest album, but we won’t hold that against them as 'Because of the Times' is Kings of Leon’s best record. It’s the perfect intersection between their thrashy first two records and their more recent large-scale cinematic commercial output.