Kings Of Leon have nothing left to prove. The Followills have built a 20 year catalogue, one that has taken them from the whisky-soaked precocity of youth to their current status as Southern rock’s genial gentlemen. ‘When You See Yourself’ is by its very title a journey of self-analysis, and it finds the band returning to their roots only to locate fresh paths forward.
Constructed alongside Markus Dravs in Nashville, ‘When You See Yourself’ leans on their roots, while adding neat flourishes that continually transplant Kings Of Leon in unique landscapes. Sometimes it’s subtle - the Eno-esque keyboards on ‘100,000 People’ for instance - but it’s always there, continually refracting Kings Of Leon through an aural kaleidoscope.
The album is at its best when there’s a certain intimacy, when the listener feels as though they’re right there in the studio. Take the neat ad hoc interplay between bass and drums that propels ‘Supermarket’ for instance, or the open-ended Tennessee storytelling at work in ‘Claire And Eddie’.
‘Stormy Weather’ pivots on that cute McCartney style bass line, before Caleb Followill’s good-time vocals harken to the ghosts of stellar debut album ‘Youth & Young Manhood’. ‘Echoing’ is a gorgeous listen, while the plaintive ‘Time In Disguise’ finds each note of the guitar reverberating in the speaker like raindrops on your window.
Four years on from previous album ‘WALLS’, Kings Of Leon aren’t in the business of reinvention. Locating that balance between arena-level caverns and studio intimacy, the band have responded by looking inwards, resulting in some of their most tender and honest songwriting for a decade.
‘Golden Restless Age’ could earn a place on commercial breakout ‘Only By The Night’, while the wistful chorus on ‘Time In Disguise’ is tailor-made for those epic festival slots (if and when they return, of course).
Ending with ‘Fairytale’, this is an album that finds progress in small gradients. Subtle in its evolution, Kings Of Leon treat ‘When You See Yourself’ as a means to re-engage with their early bite, yet remain unwilling to cede their place at rock’s top table. As a result, it’s neither the complete break some yearn for, nor an attempt to re-capture the commercial power that emanated around ‘Only By The Night’.
Perhaps the country-inflected storytelling of ‘Claire And Eddie’ provides the album’s true epitaph, when Caleb sings of “a story so old but still so original…”
Words: Robin Murray
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