Kings of Leon

Mechanical Bull

by Anthony Cusat

Coming off of multiple consecutive commercial successes, expectations for Kings of Leon’s newest studio album were more than astronomical. “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” propelled the band towards Grammy wins during the late 2000s and the momentum was visibly taking a toll on them. During the start of the early 2010s, the release of Come Around Sundown solidified Kings of Leon's in the world of alternative rock while the band's personal lives went through a time of instability. The release of 2013’s Mechanical Bull not only served as a redemption of the band's music but as a redemption from the band's close call with disbandment.

Upon its release, Mechanical Bull deviated from the expectations of what many new fans held for Kings of Leon. Following the major success they experienced in alternative rock, many people thought that Mechanical Bull would be another extension of the genre. While most of the album still falls into this alternative rock category, many songs were reminiscent of the garage band classic rock style they possessed in the early 2000s. On top of that, Only by the Night and Aha Shake Heartbreak relied on alternative rock rhythms and surface-level lyrics that many could relate to without much thought, and while that still holds true in Mechanical Bull, there is a deeper level of emotionality and coping that can be heard throughout songs like “Don’t Matter,” “Beautiful War,” and “On the Chin.” Mechanical Bull was not only a return to the roots of the Kings of Leon but an evolution on the alternative rock niche they had found themselves in. The album was built under the self-doubt of the typical rock band that blows up and then burns out and this was their attempt at a break from the stereotype.

The highlights of Mechanical Bull are the songs that play on the dichotomy between old and new Kings of Leon. “Supersoaker” was obviously supposed to be the catchy rock song of the album and does a great job of capturing the fast-paced and upbeat nature of the old Kings of Leon. “Rock City” and the garage band style of “Don’t Matter” also stand out for their gritty guitar solos but leave a lot to be desired in the lyric department. The star of the album for me is “Temple” as it does an amazing job of combining the alternative rock style of the new Kings of Leon with the lessons that have been learned throughout the band's trials and tribulation. Lyrics like “I take one in the temple, I’d take one for you” contrast to the self-doubt seen in others like “I feel all amiss now, I’m tossed in the scatter.” The recognition that they would take a bullet for the ones they would love shows the developments the band had made in their support systems since their last release, making it potentially one of the most impactful songs on the album. “On the Chin” finishes off the album strong as the fast pace slows down and the guitar gets lighter. In the extended edition, the bass line in “Last Mile Home” creates the perfect ambiance for retrospection as it mimics the clacking of a horse's hooves as it rides into the sunset with all its worries and doubts.

At the time and even today, the album is a perfect story of learning to find support from people you care about and the struggle to adapt to change. As the album has aged, much of the symbolism has become more characteristic of the fear of burnout and the fade into irrelevance seen in the modern music industry. By intentionally implementing their 2000s style garage and alternative rock together, Kings of Leon was able to elevate the message of their music and sparked a revival of the band itself. This emotion on this album feels extremely authentic and because of that, it could even be considered their best album. On March 5th, 2021, Kings of Leon released their newest album through a non-refundable token (NFT) which is a form of cryptocurrency that contains music assets. They are the first major band to release an album through an NFT which raises questions on the future role of NFT’s in music. Even after 20 years, Kings of Leon is innovating the music industry but Mechanical Bull serves as a reminder of the possible end to a great band.