Kings of Leon
United States
Music group
By the time the Kings Of Leon's debut album, Youth And Young Manhood, hit the stores in July 2003 the hysteria surrounding the band in the UK had crashed totally off the scale. The band's taut, kinetic and brashly youthful blues was being compared with everyone from Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan through to director David Lynch and photographer William Eggleston. Their album, declared one enthusiastic reviewer, was "the most culturally significant record since Oasis' 'Definitely Maybe'."

The result was pandemonium. The record immediately became a massive commercial hit, selling over 500,000 copies in the UK alone. 'Youth and Young Manhood' reached No.3 in the charts and remained in the Top Ten for over ten weeks. The album spawned three blisteringly successful singles, "Molly's Chambers," "Red Morning Light" and "Wasted Time" in the process. The band picked-up two NME Brat Awards and were nominated for two Brit Awards (Best International Group' and 'International Breakthrough Artist').

Their gigs, meanwhile, became a magnet for celebrity. As far as the general public were concerned, this merely cemented the image of the Kings Of Leon as a purely party band, four hedonistic young men intent on enjoying themselves in any way. Actually, though, the reality on the inside was somewhat different.

As a group of young men who'd been brought up in Memphis (the Kings Of Leon are comprised of the three Followill brothers; drummer Nathan, the eldest at 24, Caleb, the singer, 22, and bassist Jared, 17, along with their cousin/guitarist Matthew Followill,19), the shock of finding themselves uprooted from one way of living and plunged into another was profound.

"We were plucked from our normal surroundings, which was the country," explains Caleb now, "and then just thrown on this seemingly never-ending tour, which went all around the world. When you're on the road you turn into a different person, you can't help it. For lack of some better words, you turn into this little bitch of a person that you end up growing to hate."

It looked like you were having the time of your lives...

"Well, we used to party a lot, and it was enjoyable, but suddenly that was what we became known for. It bugged the hell out of us then and it still does now. Famous people started coming to our shows and that's all anyone would talk about. It made us so mad. We had all this stuff boiling inside us. That's why it was really, really important for us to make another record as soon as possible."
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So that's what they did. In February 2004, after 18 months of constant travel, the Followills retreated to their house in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, which rests on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, and started to write in earnest.

"We got back into the habit of being normal," says Caleb. "The clouds started to part a little. You need a little solitude if you're going to write. On the road, you can only get together little bits and pieces of music. I used to sit on my back porch and try to remember everything that had happened. Within a month, we had enough material to go straight back into the studio."

The successor to Youth And Young Manhood was recorded live during a six week spring period at the Ethan Johns' 3 Crows studio in Los Angeles. Johns himself, alongside the band's confidant Angelo, was again in charge of production. The result, released on 1st November, is A-Ha Shake Heartbreak, an astonishing and memorable second record that burns with a maturity and intensity that their first album could never have hoped to reach.

"We wanted this record to be like an open wound," says Caleb quietly. "We wanted it to be completely honest and pure. Every one of these songs is about us. They're often blurry memories patched together into a story, but they're about us the whole time. For instance, I wrote "Razz" about Jared because when we were touring he was really pissing me off at times. I just thought there was no point in being anything other than completely honest on this album..."

Part of this approach was inspired by Caleb's love of Townes Van Zandt. Before he would write any lyrics, he would play some of the country musician's music just so that he could connect with "something of depth. Part of it was the desire to escape the caricatures they thought the press had turned them into. It's made for a stronger, darker record, one that takes in both the sparse emotion of a track like 'Milk" and the frenzied blues of something like "4 Kicks."

"I wanted the songs on this record to give me the same feeling I used to get when I was riding my bike and I used to jump a hill," laughs Caleb, "or when I used to lie in our car and listen to the wheels going round. I just knew that whenever we played any of the songs on the record, I wanted to be able to turn round and see the other members of the band smile, the same way that I smile when I hear 'Be My Baby' or any other song as good as that."

On that level, the Kings of Leon have undoubtedly succeeded with their new record. After seeing many of their contemporaries struggle to make an impact second time round, they've delivered an album of undoubted style and substance. This time round the thing that will last longest in your memory are the songs themselves. As far as the Kings are concerned, that's the most important thing of all.
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