‘Youth & Young Manhood’’s vivacity was somewhat absent in 2010’s supersized ‘Come Around Somedown’ (Clash review), so its anniversary has provoked return visits and an assured hope that their belly fires are still burning.
‘Mechanical Bull’ is more instantly enjoyable than its predecessor – it’s less earnest, with clearer dynamics between dark and light in its varied rhythms, tones and personal touches.
Where ‘…Sundown’ eased in with the sombre ‘The End’, here we’re slapped in the face with the immediacy of first single ‘Supersoaker’ (video below): a ripping and relentless bounder that’s urged on by Caleb Followill’s serrated vocals.
Caleb’s whoops and squeals in the first seconds of ‘Rock City’, a frisky paean to the refuge of the Kings’ hometown Nashville, and the excitable scream during the count-in to the storming Stooges-like ‘Don’t Matter’ evokes the fun clearly enjoyed by the band in the album’s creation – perhaps in contrary to the foreboding shadow of pressure that 2008’s ‘Only By The Night’ (Clash review) cast over ‘…Sundown’. There’s less at stake here, and their relief is palpable.
Respite echoes throughout: The Cure-like ‘Temple’ and the shimmering ‘Wait For Me’ suggest absolution through hurt. “I take one in the temple / I take one for you,” goes the former, while the latter warns: “Take a shot in the rain / One for the pain / And listen up.”
Elsewhere, the brilliant ‘Comeback Story’ centres around an empathic realisation: “I walk a mile in your shoes / And now I’m a mile away / And I’ve got your shoes.”
‘Family Tree’ is the album’s irresistible highlight. It starts with Nathan and Jared’s driving funk rhythm – dark yet entrancing, just like Caleb’s vocals, which are double-tracked with a normal range countered by a low, rumbling growl.
The song’s Zutons-like chorus will be this album’s enduring legacy (especially live, with the breakdown and handclaps), so best memorise it now: “I am your family tree / I know your A to Z / This is a secret proposition / Lay your hands on me.”
The contrasting paces of ‘Coming Back Again’ (hard, fast, ’80s rock) and closer ‘One The Chin’ (laidback country-infused reflections) attest to the group’s high spirits. ‘Mechanical Bull’ may not be as wild as its makers’ debut, but it’s definitely as determined.
A strong, engaging return to form, ‘Mechanical Bull’ is made to ride. Strap in and enjoy.
Words: Simon Harper
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