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Kings of Leon: A-Ha Shake Heartbreak

 A l b u m   D e t a i l s

Label: RCA Records
Released: 2004.11.01
Category: Garage Rock, Southern Rock
Producer(s): Ethan Johns & Angelo Petraglia
Media type: CD
Web address: www.kingsofleon.com
Appears with:
Purchase date: 2012
Price in €: 1,00

 S o n g s ,   T r a c k s

[1] Slow Night, So Long (Kings of Leon) - 2:40 / 3:54 *
[2] King of the Rodeo (Kings of Leon) - 2:25
[3] Taper Jean Girl (Kings of Leon) - 3:05
[4] Pistol of Fire (Kings of Leon) - 2:20
[5] Milk (Kings of Leon) - 4:00
[6] The Bucket (Kings of Leon) - 2:55
[7] Soft (Kings of Leon) - 2:59
[8] Razz (Kings of Leon) - 2:15
[9] Day Old Blues (Kings of Leon) - 3:33
[10] Four Kicks (Kings of Leon) - 2:09
[11] Velvet Snow (Kings of Leon) - 2:11
[12] Rememo (Kings of Leon) - 3:23
[13] Where Nobody Knows [Bonus Track] (Kings of Leon) - 2:24

* - Hidden song "Too Good to Tango - 1:14" in [1].

 A r t i s t s ,   P e r s o n n e l

Caleb Followill - Vocals, Rhythm Guitar, Pipe
Matthew Followill - Lead Guitar
Jared Followill - Bass Guitar
Nathan Followill - Drums, Vocals

Ethan Johns - Audio Production, Engineer, Keyboards, Mixing, Piano, Producer

Angelo Petraglia - Audio Production, Producer
Jacquire King - Engineer, Mixing
Robert Fulps - Assistant Engineer
Chris Reynolds - Assistant
Greg Calbi - Mastering
Robin C. Hendrickson - Art Direction
Brett Kilroe - Art Direction
Dan Winters - Photography
Jo McCaughey - Photography
Steve Ralbovsky - A&R
Ken Levitan - Management
Emily Deaderick - Publicity
Jakub Blackman - Publicity
Ken Weinstein - Publicity

 C o m m e n t s ,   N o t e s

Recorded in April-June 2004 at Three Crows Studios in Los Angeles using the Beatles' old Abbey Road mixing desk.

The Follow Up to the Band’s Critically Acclaimed Debut ‘youth and Young Manhood’, ‘a-ha Shake Heartbreak’ . The Band Recorded the Album with Producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Counting Crows) Over Five Weeks in Studio City, California During the Summer of 2004.

The mysterious Followill family returns to the front porch/garage on the Kings of Leon's engaging sophomore effort, Aha Shake Heartbreak. On Youth & Young Manhood, the Kings gave Southern rock a swift kick in the rear, sounding like Lynyrd Skynyrd posing as a bunch of N.Y.U. film students (or vice versa). For their latest, the Nashville quartet raises a flag that's equal parts Confederate and Union Jack. Their success in the U.K. is understandable, as Caleb Followill's lazy drawl sounds like a cross between Bon Scott, Ray Davies, and Eddie Money with a slight Jamaican accent, but it's their seamless and agreeable blend of rock & roll, country, and Roky Erickson-style psychedelia, matched with a keen lyrical wit, that makes them fascinating to both sides of the pond. On the twenty-something barfly opener "Slow Night, So Long," Caleb laments/celebrates the soulless dance of the one-night stand ("She's opened up just like she really knows me/I hate her face, but enjoy the company") like a true student of outlaw country. It's a theme that runs rampant throughout Heartbreak, and whether it's set against a swamp-sick boogie ("Pistol of Fire") or emitted through a lonesome yodel ("Day Old Blues"), it resonates as clear and cool as the opening notes of a Creedence Clearwater Revival tune.

James Christopher Monger - All Music Guide

The Followill brothers grew up in Tennessee with a Pentecostal preacher for a daddy. But Lord knows even down-home boys fall prey to the sinful temptations of the rock & roll life, and every last one of those temptations gets chronicled in lip-smacking detail on Aha Shake Heartbreak. The Kings' second album is a hilariously raunchy Southern-rock travelogue about all the girls they met on tour for their first album. Songs like "Slow Night, So Long" and "Taper Jean Girl" are populated by gold-digging mothers and groupies with motel faces; the grooves are as sweaty as a long shag, and the hard-edged guitars aim below the Mason-Dixon Line.

100 Best Albums of the 2000s

Kings of Leon's schtick is that they have no schtick: They're just four stand-up guys who happen to be in a rock band. They're from a small town in eastern Tennessee; three of them are brothers and the fourth is a cousin; the brothers are minister's kids; all four were home-schooled. All of which marks them as outsiders-- people untouched by industry politics or expectations who are just playing rock'n'roll 'cause they're livin' it, man! But Kings of Leon's insistence on their own honest naturalism-- from their time-capsule haircuts to Caleb Followill's overexpressive vocals to their terrible album titles-- seems disingenuous, especially in a genre (Southern rock) that prizes realness and grumbles at pretensions. The Followill clan wouldn't last a week in The Drive-By Truckers' Dirty South.

Aha Shake Heartbreak, the follow-up to last year's bewilderingly well-received Youth and Young Manhood, is an update on the previous album's Southern bar-band rock, with just enough Nuggets-style pop chops to impress hipsters and critics. If the hooks aren't as good this time, the songs are more sculpted and succinct, with a greater sense of urgency and economy. On the other hand, these dozen tracks don't really mean anything. Sure, they're about stuff like women and being in a band, but they sound deeply impersonal, and often obligatory in their lazy misogyny ("Cunts watch their bodies, no room for make up") and lazier obtuseness ("He's so the purity, the shaven and the mourning"-- even Beck is more coherent). Caleb sings about a girl with an "hourglass body" who "has problems with drinking milk and being school tardy/ She'll loan you her toothbrush/ She'll bartend your party," but it doesn't sound like he actually knows anyone like that. Instead, the song's about a rock'n'roll archetype-- the wild heartbreaker, the man-eater, the endearing groupie-- and it never manages to transcend the blandly conceptual.

Elsewhere, the lyrics are so self-referential they're almost narcissistic. Songs like "Slow Night, So Long" and "Four Kicks" are about what hard-livin' good ol' boys the Followills are. In particular, "Soft" is stupid sex wordplay that would be insulting if it weren't so self-deprecating: "I'm passed out in your garden...I'd pop myself in your body/ I'd come into your party but I'm soft." One word: eww. Another favorite topic is the harsh realities of endless touring and low-level fame, as if having a major-label promote you and Dave Eggers worship you in print are such hardships. But on "Day Old Blues" Caleb observes that "Girls are gonna love the way I toss my hair/ Boy are going to hate the way I seem." This boy in particular thinks that's the key to what makes this band such a bunch of fakes: They're more interested in appearances than in their music. Those haircuts don't appear anywhere in nature.

On the other hand, maybe it's just the way Caleb sings that and every other line on Aha Shake Heartbreak. He is a terrible singer, like a drunken Randy Newman with Tourette's-- which would be a compliment if it didn't make you expect more intelligent lyrics. On just about every song here he lets loose a flurry of words in some bizarre approximation of backwater sass, but it just sounds willful and grating. On "Day Old Blues", he turns some lyrics into almost scat-like utterances while painfully overenunciating others. He's shooting for some sort of Southern-slash-Appalachian accent, but ultimately he defies geography and just sounds unnatural.

The album's one redeeming element is the band itself, who-- over the course of one EP and two albums-- have improved tenfold. They're tighter, more dynamic, and much more confident on Aha Shake Heartbreak than they were on Youth and Young Manhood. Granted, they still sound like they're descended from The Strokes and other garage bands rather than from southern royalty like Lynyrd Skynyrd or even Southern pop like The Gants or The Scruffs. Their boogie may have crawled out of Williamsburg instead of some backwater swamp, but Nathan, Jared, and Matthew Followill manage to incorporate vintage elements into their music without sounding overly nostalgic (which is the pitfall of soundalikes Thee Shams). "Slow Night, So Long" finds a twist ending in a slow coda, and songs like "The Bucket" and "Razz" pop and bounce elastically. With its hand-claps and staccato guitars, "Taper Jean Girl" struts such undeniable bad-ass energy that you may find yourself singing along, although you'll want to make up your own words.

Stephen M. Deusner - November 30, 2004
© 2015 Pitchfork Media Inc.

There can’t have been another band in history who arrived with a backstory and image more acutely designed to make certain music fans (ie: journalists) cry with pleasure than the Kings Of Leon. Here was a band raised by a man with a Bible in one hand and a bottle in the other; a band who apparently spent many of their formative years living in a car; a band who were even more than the last gang in town that every band wants to be – a band of actual brothers and cousins.

Here was a band who appeared to be everything we wanted them to be, all at once. They were the Partridge Family ruined by malnutrition and alcoholism, a modern-day Ingalls family from Little House On The Prairie picking out riffs on home-made fiddles in the barn that Daddy built, a prowling group of Waltons boys let loose on the world after their balls all dropped over one terrifying weekend. Here was a band that arrived dressed in exactly the same thrift-store T-shirts that every blank-eyed cretin on Hollyoaks and every grinning homunculous presenting tots’ TV wore, only the Kings looked like they might have actually bought theirs in an real thrift store for a couple of dollars, rather than buying it ready-distressed from Selfridges for £54.99.

But, perhaps most confusingly, here was a band who arrived, perfect and fully formed, still reeking of a part of America that remains largely an intangible mystery even in the 21st century, a band who arrived just as Cameron Crowe’s rock-hack classic Almost Famous made long-forgotten ’70s Southern rock giants like The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd bizarrely fashionable. Then, suddenly, there was this lot. They had beards and long hair. They had funny accents and olde-worlde manners. They appeared never to have heard of hip-hop, Sunny D or mobile phones. They couldn’t have been better if they’d been pieced together in a laboratory. So the Kings looked at the hacks and the hacks looked at the Kings and it was love at first sight. We weren’t watching Almost Famous any more, we were in it.

Unfortunately, in the Kings’ case, love wasn’t so much blind, as deaf. ‘Youth & Young Manhood’ was no more in debt to Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival or any other shit-kicking stadium rock act dressed to impress in weathered denim and flowing facial hair than, say, Dizzee Rascal. The difficult truth of the matter is that they were a hundred times more complex and interesting than that. And now, to confuse things further, ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ leaves any remnants of that Southern schtick for dust.

Let’s take ‘Razz’, for example. It starts with a bassline that sounds as if Jared pulled it directly from an old Motown record – fairly shambolically, it must be said – before deciding that some junk-shop disco drums and a hefty portion of raggedy-arsed ska guitar parts would top it off nicely. Play this to Lynyrd Skynyrd fans and you’d get lynched – literally, Alabama’s not that sweet you know.

Then there’s ‘Milk’ – a work of real beauty that grows from thin threads of ambient synth, through Caleb’s spare acoustic guitar part and gurgling growl of a voice to tell the tale of a girl – a young girl, too – who’s got an “hourglass body” who’s quite accommodating, like many of the women who appear on this record. I’m thinking of the lady in ‘Soft’ who happily reveals her “perfect nipples” here. She’ll do everything from “loan you her toothbrush”, to “bartend your party”. Would you be surprised if I said it develops into a soft-rock hum of melodic joy before disintegrating back into the synth? I was.

‘Day Old Blues’ – a brilliantly cynical, heartbroken rant explaining how being in a rock group is rubbish (“Girls are going to love the way I toss my head/Boys are going to hate the way I seem”) – dispenses with almost everything but the back-porch guitar it ambles in on. ‘Slow Nights, So Long’, the hip-dipping, psyched-out, Who-flavoured opening track, breaks down into a calypso-flavoured tropicalian jazz coda – no, really – where Caleb gets to croon, “Rise and shine all you gold-diggin’ muthas/Are you too good to tangle with the poor, poor boys?” I don’t recall The Allman Brothers being quite this adventurous. Come to think of it, I don’t remember many stadium-levelling boogie monsters doing anything as gloriously metronomic, as rigidly motorik as ‘King Of The Rodeo’ either.

Listen to the way Matthew and Caleb’s guitars swing on totally different tangents yet complement each other every time they pass. This is music that has its eyes and heart set on a wider world than that offered by a fast-shrinking globe’s soulless enormodomes. Admittedly, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine some terrible old substance abusers – perhaps The Eagles, or Crosby, Stills & Nash – coming up with a track called ‘Velvet Snow’ because, frankly, if it’s not about aggravatingly repeated cocaine use then it certainly ought to be. But it’s unlikely that any collection of Californian super soft-rocking longhairs you care to mention would have managed to keep up with the track’s frenetic, over-wired pace and head-spinning, stream-of-unconsciousness lyrics.

Clearly, somehow, somewhere on the never-ending tour that followed the release of ‘Youth & Young Manhood’ the Kings lost several key parts of their minds, in particular the ones that make bands release the same old shit, drawn from the same drained, dry old well, year in year out.

Happily, it would seem from the evidence presented here that the freshly shorn Kings are intent on rebuilding themselves from scratch, drawing on whatever wild and wonderful influences they’ve tripped over in their race to live five lifetimes in every day. How else could you explain the fact they’ve found room to shoehorn in a truly odd waltz-time number that weirds out enough to spin the album to a close on some insane sort of floaty, early-’60s Polish jazz? Again – and please correct me if I’m wrong here – not a big player with the Bud’n’Ludes crews of America, be they the mid-’70s edition or the super-brand-hugging consumers of today.

I never really got the Kings Of Leon before. I could never get past Caleb’s howl of a voice, or Nathan’s beard. I walked past them in a hotel lobby once. They were dressed in floppy hats, painfully tight stripy tops and middle-aged ladies’ sunglasses and it all just seemed so contrived, so deliberate, that it actually took my breath away. Consequently, lots and lots of people assured me that this record would take quite a few listens to really enjoy, that I wouldn’t get it unless I lived with it for a while, that it was a bit difficult. Well, that’s bollocks. I fell in love with it immediately, as you will if you let yourself get past what you think the band are all about and actually listen to what they’re doing, what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

Do yourself a favour – don’t believe another word of what you read about the Kings Of Leon. Apart from these ones, naturally.

Rob Fitzpatrick - September 12, 2005
© 1996-2015 Time Inc. (UK) Ltd.

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