For their sixth album, the Kings of Leon face the task of returning from rock bottom. After the poor reception of their 2010 album,Â Come Around Sundown, and personal problems of lead singer Caleb Followill, which lead to the cancellation of most of their American tour, the future of the band didn’t look great. So they set out to redeem themselves and their career with this album. Drummer Nathan Followill stated that they set out to make “an unofficial greatest hits album” by writing this record to encompass the most essential sounds of their career.
The band accomplishes this, for better or worse. Like a greatest hits album,Â Mechanical Bull feels uneven,Â unfocused, and largely unsatisfying. It’s true that it’s an improvement from their last album, and it succeeds with synthesizing an essential sound.Â Mechanical BullÂ focuses on a dirtier southern rock/stadium sound than their radio-leaning singles fromÂ Only By the Night that made them famous, and this often works to the band’s benefit. But the album as a whole suffers from too many mediocre songs and a feeling of superficial triumph.
At its best, as on the opening track and lead single, “Supersoaker,” the band focuses their melodic craft with a great hard rock sound similar to the Arctic Monkeys or the Black Keys. At its worst, though, as on the insufferable “Comeback Story,” the songwriting comes off as store-brand pop-rock. That song in particular uses the old joke “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. Because then you’re a mile away and you’ve got their shoes,” and crafts it into a humorless and awkwardly-phrased chorus.
Mechanical Bull is certainly a strong step forward for the Tennessee rock band, and it’s a sign of good things to come. But it is ultimately a flawed album, and will not be able to either convince rock fans to accept them as a serious rock band or satisfy pop fans who fell in love with “Use Somebody.”