One of the biggest travesties of 2000s rock ‘n’ roll was that “Knocked Up” was three minutes too long.
The opening salvo to Kings Of Leon’s third album, Because of the Times, is a titanic mini-rock opera, a Springsteen-worthy, redneck-on-the-road saga that reintroduced the band as the stadium-ready heir apparents.
Sure, it’s a standard Kings affair by today’s standards, but it reset the band’s sonic template. This was the rustbucket rockers vibrant in Technicolor, sprawling in Panavision.
It’s important to consider how remarkable this song is given their more recent, more underwhelming, efforts. “Knocked Up” is a simple song. It rides on a wisp-thin, three-note guitar hook so subtle it almost disappears and still remains stark and captivating.
By comparison, Only By The Night pined for stardom. Its tracks were solid, but overprocessed, tarted up for the main show. Because of the Times is less amicable, more subtlety inventive, something fresh with the factory seal removed.
Though these albums are sonic brothers, it’s this undercurrent that separates the discs; like the Hawaiian islands, they look only a short way apart – until you try to swim.
Take “Charmer,” with its off-kilter, corn-fed Pixies ooze. Or “My Party,” with its breathless, charging, water-in-the-face refrain. You’re not sure if it’s meant to piss you off or cool you down. Even the worst of these songs have a life and vibrancy that seems beyond the sparkling production.
This is an album that should have teemed with radio hits. “Fans,” “Ragoo” and “True Love Way” could have each filled a third or fourth single slot. None of the songs seem dumbed-down, and each has something to offer. “Fans” has its chanting chorus, “Ragoo” its staccato guitar and “True Love Way” its balanced, sum-of-parts songwriting.
Sure, Because of the Times isn’t a great album, but it’s an important one in context. It was what new fans discovered in the wake of Only By The Night. They’ll keep coming back to it, too, perhaps even more often than the superior Aha Shake Heartbreak and Youthand Young Manhood.
The lingering issue with this album is how much it said and continues to say about the music industry. Love it or hate it, this was lavish material left to languish just out of the limelight.
Six years later, it’s Because of the Times that should set your blood boil about the state of modern rock radio … and what it pushes bands to do for stardom.