Kings of Leon, “Mechanical Bull” (RCA)
Bands get exhausted just as often as people get tired of listening to them — you just hear about it less. So when Kings of Leon imploded, or took a hiatus, or merely went quiet after a tumultuous patch a couple of years back, it qualified as news, even though it really should have been considered a favor. The band had gotten big, and it needed something else, bumpy road there be damned.
And so a decade after its debut album, Kings of Leon is making a U-turn, heading back in the direction of being the band it once was. The best parts of “Mechanical Bull,” its sixth album, come when that exhaustion seeps into the songwriting and playing. Even though Kings of Leon has had a handful of world-killing hits — “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” chief among them — it’s always been a haggard, handsome Southern rock band at its core, and the best songs here exude a macho kind of depression.
“Rock City” has the requisite sleaze, with guitars that linger like a headache and a Caleb Followill rant. On “Family Tree,” almost all of the arena-size ambition is gone, and what’s left is some dirty ZZ Top-esque blues-rock, a mode that suits this band well.
Subtlety has never been one of this band’s gifts, and its lyrics can veer toward the comedic — “Comeback Story” includes the punch line, “I walked a mile in your shoes/ and now I’m a mile away/ and I’ve got your shoes.”
In general, the less this band talks, the better. The high points here are the ones where it sounds as if the band has the least gas in the tank, like the elegant “Beautiful War.” It sounds like a band at the end of its career, leaning on instinct, and it’s savage.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
Chvrches, “The Bones of What You Believe” (Glassnote)
In an autumn filled with female-fronted electropop releases both big (Katy Perry, Lady Gaga) and smaller (Icona Pop), the debut from Scottish trio Chvrches might get lost. It shouldn’t be. “The Bones of What You Believe” is an assured and sober album of synthetic pop that’s set apart from their peers’ 4/4 barrage. But it’s still rousing, arena-ready fun.
Singer Lauren Mayberry is an obvious draw — her light burr, endearing profanities and ear for room-shaking melodies make this the rare electro record that could sound just as good played on a lone piano. But producers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty have found prime sonic terrain somewhere amid the cosmic crush of M83, the limber bounce of Depeche Mode and the skittery drum machines of peers like Purity Ring.
Early blog-bait singles such as “The Mother We Share” and “Recover” sound even better with the album’s big-budget spit shine; “Gun” and “Lies” will probably join their ranks. As the air turns cooler and the skies go grayer, the rave kids are going to need a comedown, and the rest of us need some immersive, sad-eyed headphone jams. This record should do the trick for everyone.
August Brown, Los Angeles Times