Kings of Leon — Walls ANALYSIS & REVIEW
There was nothing that struck me in this album as being melodically great. This was never really a strength for Kings of Leon. Their lines are not very captivating or fluid as a whole. What they do have is nice simplicity that works within the context of the music. That was the first step in making the music bearable, to say the least. Beyond that, the melodies generally had enough shape to grasp some attention, and enough good repetition to become memorable. The memorable lines in “Waste a Moment”, “Around the World”, and “Over” don’t have a lot of interesting material but still serve the music well. “Conversation Piece” had my favorite melody overall, since it was both unique and took charge of giving motion to the song. None of the other songs on this album had melodies with the same sense of motion or uniqueness.
The title track “WALLS” was the most disappointing melodically. It was too formulaic, too plain, and contained many repeated lines that did not have the quality or intrigue to deserve repetition. This album is an example of the ceiling that melodies hit if they don’t provide enough identity. A melody could be very pleasing, simple, easy to remember, and unobtrusive, but if it provides no life of its own then the piece of music cannot progress further. While a few melodies in WALLS had identifiable qualities, it was not enough to push the music over the top. I wanted to feel more involved in the songs, but there was so real substance in the melody for me to grab onto, even though it was sufficient enough for the music to be just all right.
Kings of Leon loved using chords I and vi in this album for some reason. At least half of the album had songs that went back and forth between I and vi for a period of time. Sure, it provides a small modal shift that listeners enjoy, but I’m curious as to why they went the simplest route in doing so. There are many creative ways to shift between the major and minor mode, and this most basic one doesn’t give off much inventiveness, which could’ve greatly helped the music. Still, at least it signaled some sense of motion and mood.
Overall, the harmonies were rather static and predictable. They found a progression for each song and stuck with them throughout. The progressions themselves contained enough interest and motion to feel appropriate while adding to the quality of the music, but there was hardly a sense of flair to give the music any more meaning or excitement. Some songs were more harmonically interesting than others. “Find Me” and “Wild” both had great uses of diatonic chords that took over the song and added a good presence. Songs such as “Around the World” and “Eyes On You”, though, didn’t do anything interesting to the predictable two or four chord progression, which really bogged down the music. Even with these differences, the harmonies were very similar in nature overall. They recycled a lot of their chordal relationships that never gave a great sense of emotion to the music. The harmony had its moments and worked well enough with the music to sound like it belonged, but more thought and creativity is needed if their music is to become great.
Like many successful modern musicians, Kings of Leon recognize that timbre is much more important now than it was even 20 years ago, and that they cannot rest on making the same old rock and roll sound. First, I must give praise to the incredible contributions that guitarist Matthew Followill made on this album. His skill and versatility on lead guitar really helped give power and energy to this album, and is perhaps somewhat underestimated. The song “Wild” was really neat and would have been nothing without the incredible guitar licks. If a rock band is going to survive with acoustic instruments alone, a skilled guitarist is the first thing needed, and Kings of Leon certainly have that down.
I would go so far as to say that the use of the guitar is what makes this album good. On top of that, the differing textures within each song provide a nice sense of form to the music that the melody and harmony never necessarily gave. The slow beats came as a surprise at first but ended up stabilizing the album well and succeeded in creating the run-down, feel-good sound that Kings of Leon were after. Other than a few nice backup vocals that came in intermittently throughout, there weren’t a lot of effective additions to their base sound. Kings of Leon obviously worked hard at crafting the sound they would employ on WALLS, and while this effort is greatly appreciated, they could have adopted a more risk and reward approach that could’ve benefited this album more. Perhaps they don’t have the capacity to do that, since their most experimental timbre of the album in the song “Muchacho” came off as odd and non-cohesive. For the most part, I enjoyed the consistency of their sound, and although it doesn’t reach a level of greatness, it gives the album legs to stand on.
Kings of Leon have been massively popular for years, and they are quite musically respectable. They are a gritty yet modern rock band, and this seventh album of theirs is a good representation of their growth while maintaining their unique sound. WALLS doesn’t really provide any new musical features that are worthwhile. It is an extremely consistent sounding piece of music, but this consistency doesn’t provide any major musical breakthroughs. Plus, the singles don’t have enough momentum to last a long time through the airwaves. It’s Kings of Leon, and WALLS will be listened to heavily, but after a while it will lose its audience.