Why Have We Forsaken Kings of Leon?

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I like a lot of music that isn’t considered cool right now. I don’t listen to Burial, Four Tet, or Bladee; I try to listen to Lana Del Rey once a week, but she doesn’t do it for me. I am happy with R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub. I listen to Third Eye Blind and Uncle Tupelo. Recently, I dug deep and put “Manhattan” by Kings of Leon on the AirPods, and it blew me away. It has this dreamy, nostalgic quality that has aged very well. I listened to it a few times and then dove into the band’s catalog, and my memory was correct—they have several songs from multiple albums that hold up. As a culture, we love to go back and romanticize the music from our halcyon days. So why haven’t we done that with Kings of Leon?

I don’t know where you were in 2003, but Kings of Leon was utterly unavoidable if you were in England or paying attention to any music press. Their debut EP, Holy Roller Novocaine, and subsequent LP, Youth and Young Manhood, garnered a level of attention that no guitar band could achieve in today’s musical landscape. They had a signature look, lots of hair, skintight jeans, and leather boots. They partied hard, fought with each other, and dated actresses and models, like a god-fearing, Southern-fried version of The Strokes, or Oasis meets The Black Crowes meets Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The band consists of three brothers—Caleb, Jared, and Nathan Followill—and a cousin, Matthew Followill. The brothers grew up in Oklahoma and Tennessee, but their father was a traveling United Pentecostal Church preacher, so they were often on the road with their parents. You couldn’t write a better backstory. The rumor was that the parents did some snake charming; it’s unproven, but I like to believe it. Adds to the mystique.

The music was bluesy, late-‘60s garage meets ‘70s guitar rock with a sort of hillbilly groove. The first song that really struck me was “California Waiting,” an infectious and scrappy tune in which Caleb’s vocals call to mind both Eddie Vedder and Neil Young. Remember, this was when a lot of popular music had cocaine-fueled garage energy. (The White Stripes never did it for me, still don’t.) Youth and Young Manhood peaked at number three in the United Kingdom but never cracked the top hundred of the Billboard album chart in the United States.

But then they got too big. “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” from 2008’s Only by The Night, were chart-topping smashes my mom would know the words to. They cut their hair, married, had kids, and started sounding like U2, which isn’t necessarily bad (“Unos, dos, tres, catorce” and the iPod fiasco excluded), but the tide shifted. They released a few stinker albums. Still, those shouldn’t erase the good ones. Are our memories that short?

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