Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2003
The story about the Kings of Leon, a Nashville-based rock band touted as the next big thing, is that the four young men, with their tight bell-bottoms and shaggy hair are pure throwbacks. Having grown up shuttling between Memphis and Oklahoma City with their itinerant Pentecostal preacher father, the Brothers Followill -- Caleb, Nathan, and Jared (the fourth member is cousin Matthew) -- lived a hermetic existence. The legend is that the boys saw the light of rock 'n' roll through the car stereo, as their father always played vintage Stones and Neil Young. But the brothers claim they didn't absorb classic rock as much as they did church music and, for that reason, they claim as influences "real Pentacostalists" like Aretha Franklin and Al Green. Their rock education didn't start in earnest until their father "quit the clothhood." In fact, they first thought of becoming musicians when they heard The White Stripes. The band's stylistic connection to the current garage-band scene is stronger than it is to redneck Southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The Kings' debut, "Youth and Young Manhood," contains elements of classic Dixie rock -- the Tom Petty intro to "Happy Alone," the Dickie Betts leads on "Joe's Head" -- but it's the propulsive rhythmic sense that make The Strokes comparisons valid. Last weekend, when they played at Summer Sonic, they burned through showpieces "Red Morning Light" and "Spiral Staircase" like a gasoline fire goes through a wooden shack, accelerating at such a sloppy clip that Caleb's already drawl-heavy vocals were rendered even more incomprehensible.
That's sort of a shame, since the one similarity their songs share with classic southern soul and rock is a lyrical obsession with sexual sin and redemption. The Kings' masterpiece, "Holy Roller Novocaine," is the same story as Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" but told from the point of view of the seducer. "Lord's gonna get us back," goes the headbanging chorus. The Devil is in the details.