While this review is years late, I still believe it to be worthwhile because the album changed so much for Kings of Leon. Only by the Night is the band’s fourth studio album and was released in 2008 with two chart-topping singles, “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody.”
The album was met with many mixed reviews. While it catapulted Kings of Leon into the mainstream spotlight and gained them a huge new audience, it lost the respect of many of their original fans who referred to them as “sell-outs” after the release of this album. Many fans believed that this album did not demonstrate what they knew to be the sound of Kings of Leon, and a review from PopMatters went as far to say that this album was a result of the band embracing a “radio friendly Nickelback form” (Via PopMatters).
The album’s initial single, “Sex on Fire,” enters with an echoing guitar rhythm and simple dancy drum beat – quite a contrast from songs on their previous albums which entered with heavy distortion and a southern blues-rock feel (music you would bob or bang your head to, rather than move your feet). The vocals of lead singer Caleb Followill enter in his upper range (contrasting to other albums in which he tends to use his lower range more frequently) on the lyrics, “Lay where you’re laying, don’t make a sound/ I know they’re watching, they’re watching.” The song follows a conventional verse-chorus pattern with instrumental builds giving way to an unsurprising chorus of “You, your sex is on fire/ And so were the words to transpire.” The extremely catchy and predictable chorus is what helped popularize this song and label it as mainstream; however, it’s the unpredictability of their earlier work that made them so enticing to their original fans. There is really nothing extraordinary in this song – you always know what is coming next and there is never a moment when you stop and say “wow, that was awesome.”
The second hit of the album, “Use Somebody,” begins with a Coldplay-esque intro: layers of melodic guitar, escalating chord progressions, and distant “ooo”ing. It couldn’t get more mainstream. This song has much more instrumental layering than the last, but still follows the verse-chorus construction with instrumental builds that lay a clear road map for the listener. The lyrics are standard and unremarkable, “I’ve been roaming around, I was looking down at all I see/ Painted faces fill the places I can’t reach/ You know that I could use somebody.” The bland lyrics and Coldplay intro rip-off make it seem like they just weren’t even trying. The song ventures into a mild guitar solo toward the end, but again nothing too crazy for radio play.
Now you can’t hate a band for wanting radio play, more fans, and, well, more money, but there’s a fine line between making radio friendly, catchy tunes and just copying the sound of other mainstream artists for a quick fix. If they had geared more songs on the album toward the sound of “Revelry,” they might have pulled this off.
The southern-gospel organ, bare-bone instrumental structure, and twangy guitar echos of “Revelry” better reflect songs from their previous albums while still being tame enough to get mainstream attention. Honestly, many of the songs off the album including “Revelry,” “Closer,” “Crawl,” and “17” are pretty good songs and well representative of previous work; however, they threw a few completely ordinary songs on the album, and those were the ones they chose to make public and represent the album as a whole.
Check out the whole album and judge for yourself.