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“I Need Some Ryan Adams Replacement Music… Huh Youth and Young Manhood Should Work”

Ambushed in a sense by a low rating on Pitchfork, the Kings of Leon’s first album is a scrappy favorite of mine even more so as a result, a hulking cluster of this defiantly straight-ahead traditional rock and roll in songs that are layered, textural and structurally mature. I think I just got in the mood for it a little over an hour ago and about midway through, in “Joe’s Head” or “Trani” or thereabouts, I got the idea that for every time I crave those banjo licks and that bare emotion in “Answering Bell,” I’ll throw this sucka on and forget that Ryan Adams ever existed, and forget about most of the rest of the world too, while I’m at it.

And why shouldn’t rock and roll be that way? Politics don’t MATTER when you have a broken heart. Why should it? How could anything “youthful,” like Supertramp said in “Goodbye Stranger,” be anything different?

There’s no room for semantics and the Kings of Leon understood that and what’s more, explosively popular in Britain and spawning of a British biographer for Holy Rock & Rollers: The Story of Kings of Leon [1], they understood not only the traddies like Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones but The Velvet Underground as well, to which Caleb Followill was introduced less than a year before Youth and Young Manhood hit shelves (yes music did “hit shelves” back then, if you can believe it). You can tell the difference, too, between that frenetic but puerile songwriting knack which lacked the VU influence (“Molly’s Chambers”; “Holy Roller Novacaine”; “California Waiting”) and that dark, tense, trippy and almost gravitational sense of chord progression he’d develop for “Happy Alone”; “Spiral Staircase” [2] and perhaps most importantly, “Joe’s Head,” the classic of the bunch.

“Joe’s Head” is a dirge about as ominous and tragic as you can get, set to bright, Apollonian major chords in true post-punk form, the kind of trick that Pitchfork darling Modest Mouse also had a handle on. I’ve written a post about it in the past I know wherein I went to great lengths to emphasize the subtlety of how the sarcasm in the line “Good friends ’til the end” is drawn (as well as the very fact that it is sarcasm in the first place, which given how preposterously dense lots of people are these days, might not be obvious at first to some I suppose). Obviously, the showstopping part of the song is toward the end and the frenzied, primal cry singing style that Caleb Followill adopts for the final chorus, a stunning stunt that’s repeated in the next song, the excellent “Trani,” but “Joe’s Head” remains the centerpiece to me and the album’s finest moment.

Still, the brilliance abounds, right down to the excellent sequencing of “California Waiting” as a reflective respite to follow the gritty “Trani,” only to dive back into sonic dissonance and veritable madness for kinetic high point “Spiral Staircase,” a great burp of rock glory before the slightly diluted radio single “Molly’s Chambers.” Never mind what these cats did after this album. And never mind what they do in their spare time, what they say on guest television appearances, or any of that. This is a classic album I can put on to this day and within in be taken in to a world of endless kaleidoscopic lyrical imagism and rope-tight, blistering rock and roll music, which took The Strokes’ neo-garage approach but made it expansive through increased guitar virtuosity and gushing, anatomically effervescent songs.

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[1] It should be noted that in reality there is nothing “holy” about the Kings and that even the song “Holy Roller Novacane” seems to be a reference to roofies, or slipping something in a girl’s drink and having sex with her (let’s hope it’s all from detached perspective and that they got it all out of their system in lyricism).

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[2] This song as well I think masters the sense of the dissonant and the chaotic with a similar feel to the Velvets’ “European Son” or maybe “Sister Ray” or “The Murder Mystery.”

 

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