Kings of Alt-Rock

Over the course of three albums, Kings of Leon have worn their undigested influences on their rangy, sleeveless arms. Sure, this is partly born of a supremely unambitious approach, but the result is a rare, uncomplicated rock pleasure. 2005's Aha Shake Heartbreak has endured several years into the blog era, while "The Bucket" even recently earned an of-the-moment CSS remix. And the blatant Pixies aping of "Charmer" from 2007's underrated Because of the Times couldn't be more beguilingly in love with Frank Black if a team of alienated '90s teens sang or screamed it. Sadly, Kings' fourth record, Only by the Night, is mostly an arena-rock aberration. The band members need to write spacious, grandiose songs designed for British festivals, or the Killers will usurp them. But stadium-scale drama doesn't suit their strengths. "Crawl" is a great single, singer Caleb Followill drawling over fuzzy Brit-bombast. But "Closer," "Use Somebody," and "Be Somebody" could work only at giant concerts: Through headphones or computer speakers, his echoey vocals just don't sound credible. The group's Black-Crowes-go-new-wave choruses feel unearned after tiresome, oversung verses. Kings of Leon's efforts to expand their sound are admirable, but sticking to a smaller scale will give the band a better chance at enduring. That, or they should just go ahead and actually work with Sitek next time, finally unleashing their '70s stoner epic: the psych-rock masterpiece the Allmans never made.
Tue., May 19, 5 p.m., 2009
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Lex Benaim