As calls grow for humanity to forget 2020 ever happened and start 2021 where 2019 left off, Kings Of Leon return with the perfect opportunity.
Their eighth album, recorded pre-pandemic and steeped in the hazy euphoria of warm festival nights and wide open space, Where When You See Yourself appears to comment on 2020’s many horrors, but it’s merely an augur of dark times ahead.
‘A fire’s gonna rage if people don’t change,’ Caleb Followill warns on Claire And Eddie, predicting last year’s wildfires, on a lovelorn lament for mankind’s relationship with the planet. ‘I’m going nowhere,’ he muses on the Cure-like Supermarket, a lyric from 2008 granted added import mid-lockdown.
If the record sounds particularly relevant, though, it only reflects KOL’s evolution. The last time they were kissing cousins with the zeitgeist was on their emergence as the Southern Strokes in 2003; for much of the past 20 years they’ve hovered along in their own – hugely successful – sphere of timeless anthemic country rock.
With 2018’s Walls, however, producer Markus Dravs hooked them back up to the contemporary grid, and When You See Yourself is their most clued-in record in a decade.
Opener When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away shares the bass-driven spaciousness of Death Cab For Cutie, and elsewhere hints of Lanterns On The Lake’s ghostliness, Tame Impala’s sepia psychedelia and The National’s propulsive atmospherics colour the frame.
Judging by the clattering drums and horns on Golden Restless Age, one of the album’s more ebullient high points, someone’s been mainlining The National’s Buzzblood Ohio.
Golden Restless Age and tropical psych groover Stormy Weather are the youthful heart of the album, where Caleb dissects the beauty, anxiety and wild romantic folly of uncertain salad days.
They’re balanced by a rich seam of introspection and experience: the gently cosmic Fairytale, laced with crackling antique orchestration, lifts the lid on the struggles behind the scenes of an A-list marriage, while A Wave and Supermarket document the crutches we resort to to get us through the darker nights – the latter, originally written in the wake of the band’s Only By The Night, confesses: ‘It’s a long, hard road’ and ‘I’ll never be home again till I get clean’.
The record always retains a weightless air, though, of cares drifting free, epitomised by the pure Gary Cooper escapism of Wild West saga The Bandit.
A record of life-worn wisdom, hard times and hope. How very 2021.