Kings of Leon
Aha Shake Heartbreak
Handmedown / RCA
f you’d asked me what I thought of Kings of Leon a few days ago, before I heard Aha Shake Heartbreak, I would have told you that I thought they were over-hyped and over-rated. That their first album had some pretty good songs on it but was patchy as a whole. I may have said that it was a shame that they had been so wildly praised because that praise had become a burden. They couldn’t possibly live up to the accolades. I might also have mentioned their beards. And doesn’t that guy from the Mavericks write all their songs?
A year and a bit after Youth and Young Manhood, the Kings of Leon are back, with only one beard left intact, and I have to eat my words. Aha Shake Heartbreak is a rollicking, rocking, raunchy, um, riproarer of an album. Apart from Caleb Followill’s distinctive, growly vocals—half-man half-grizzly—this could be a completely different band. A much better band. It’s quite an incredible transformation—and I’ll say this upfront: it doesn’t matter what you thought of their debut, you should listen to this album.
From the first moment of opener, “Slow Night, So Long” this album grabs you by the ears and drags you through the dirt. Guitars fizz, barns shake, rattlesnakes hiss, preachers thump their Bibles. Well, those are the images this Englishman sees when he listens to these good ole boys, anyway. That and Daisy Duke being ‘romanced’ on the backseat of the General Lee. Because when I said they drag you through the dirt, I meant it literally. This album is filthy. From the picture on the sleeve onwards, and inwards, the Followills sound like they’ve discovered the pleasures of the flesh and want to tell everyone all about it, not caring how sordid or sleazy their stories of life in a rock band sound. As such, that opening track tells of a girl who’s just “seventeen, but I done went and plum forgot it…so far so good, she’s absolutely wasted”. Then, in “Soft”, an outrageously honest tale, which would be a massive hit if it wasn’t far too risque for radio, Caleb yells, “I’d pop myself in your body, I’d come into your party, but I’m soft.” Then there’s a song called “Pistol of Fire”, which reminds me of the complaint Tom Hanks had in The Green Mile. Ouch.
After the initial rush of excitement—an opening quartet of songs which, in the way they meld together and barely let up, are reminiscent of the opening of Surfer Rosa—things slow down with the gorgeous “Milk”, in which Caleb sings about a girl with an hourglass body who’ll loan you her toothbrush. They’re obsessed, I tell you. And that’s followed by “The Bucket”, which doesn’t sound very gentlemanly to me either. I actually had to listen to “The Bucket” a dozen times before I could work out if I loved or hated it. In the end, I went with the former. To top it off, “Day Old Blues” has a beautiful chorus featuring what may or may not be yodelling. This is a good thing. Trust me.
Like The Strokes’ Room on Fire, Aha Shake Heartbreak is beautifully economical and endlessly inventive. Like Room on Fire, the only criticism I can level is that there are no big songs, no massive standout tracks that you have to skip back to and listen to again and again. Instead, the album works as a whole—and although you may not skip back to individual tracks, the moment the final gorgeous track ends, you’ll want to start the whole thing over again.
Reviewed by: Mark Edwards
Reviewed on: 2004-11-17