KINGS OF LEON
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE The mellowing Kings claim the middle of the road as their kingdom.
Kings of Leon have grown up.
The once shaggy-haired, wild-eyed Followills — brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared and cousin Matthew — look far more wholesome now, perhaps, in part, due to the influence of singer Caleb’s wife, supermodel and Taylor Swift squad member Lily Aldridge. And they sound more wholesome, too.
Their seventh album “WALLS” (RCA), short for “We Are Like Love Songs,” is mostly sleek and polished and far more pop-oriented than anything else they have ever done, though the band does sort of ease into it.
The opener and first single, “Waste a Moment,” sounds like it could fit next to “Sex on Fire” on the band’s Grammy-winning “Only by the Night” album, while the scruffy rock of “Reverend” feels like it could go even further back.
By the time we reach the chugging, 6-minute epic “Over,” though, the shift becomes clearer. The track, about Caleb’s onstage meltdown in 2011 that put the band on hiatus, balances between verses where Caleb sounds like he’s channeling Interpol and a verse that’s so poppy it could have come from One Direction’s last album.
“Conversation Piece” falls somewhere between Pearl Jam and Coldplay, which may come from new collaborator producer Markus Dravs, who handled Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto” album. That middle ground seems to hold some appeal for the band, considering how the piano-driven “Walls” and the midtempo “Wild” hover there as well. And they do retain a bit of their “Southern Strokes” charm on the bouncy “Find Me,” with its dueling guitars, and the jangly “Eyes on You” with its radio-ready shuffle.
“WALLS” feels like a transitional album, a way for the band to move to more radio-friendly middle ground without scaring off its Day One fans. For those fans, though, the edgier stuff, like the gloriously weird “Muchacho,” will probably still hold their attention more.