Sunday, 7 September 2003

Album Review: Youth And Young Manhood

Not since Is This It was released in 2001 has a debut album arrived to such a fanfare. By the time you read this, you’ll already know that the Kings Of Leon consist of three brothers (who are the sons of a preacher man) and a cousin. You’ll also know that they are incredibly young (the oldest member being just twenty-three) and they exhibit a nice line in beards. Underneath this needless info and the lashings of praise heaped upon it lays an aggressive, horny, energetic and dirty album from a band who appear to have the potential to be absolutely huge.

From the incredibly exciting opener Red Morning Light with its “Hey hey, another dirty bird giving out a taste” chorus to the tale of depravity and debauchery that is Trani, this is a sleazy and largely unpleasant album, which makes it all the better. Should the listener be in any doubt as to this, they need only to listen to Joe’s Head; where the protagonist murders the guy who is sleeping with his wife. Then murders his wife. Then lights up a cigarette to honour the moment. All is clearly not well in the mind of Caleb Followill. In fact only Johnny Cash and Nick Cave have written about murder in such a celebratory way.

While it has drawn criticism from some quarters, lead singer Caleb’s voice is a revelation. It has the scowl of Liam Gallagher at his peak and the shriek of Bon Scott. When he opens his throat and yells as he does most notable on Red Morning Light and Genius, it seems as though the gates of Hell have opened. Then when the pace slows, he captures the listener like no one has done since Willie Nelson; listen to Trani or Dusty if you need proof.

Most of the criticism levelled at Youth and Young Manhood has suggested that it fails because it doesn’t sound modern. Far from being a failure, this is the album’s biggest triumph. The Kings of Leon take us back to simpler times; the bearded 60s (Lynyrd Skynrd and The Band spring to mind) and the drug crazed 70s and meld this history with an incredible sense of youth and, you guessed it, young manhood.

It’s not hard to see why the Kings of Leon have excited the world as they have. There are few bands who are able to write and live such hard-drinking, hard-rocking songs and sound exciting and boisterous rather than drunk and boastful. Youth and Young Manhood leapfrogs Make Up The Breakdown, Keep On Your Mean Side and Fever To Tell to become the debut of the year so far and nestles just in behind Elephant to become the second best album of the year overall, which can be hardly considered a failure.

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