Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Album review: Kings of Leon, Mechanical Bull

The Kings of Leon have lost their way on this sixth album.
The Kings of Leon have lost their way on this sixth album.

Jack Johnson. They're not the first words anyone reading a Kings of Leon album review wants to see. But there's a song on Mechanical Bull - the dreamy, dreary On the Chin - that sounds as insipid and instantly forgettable as anything released by the surfie muzak-maker.

Kings of Leon used to make the best grab-your-buddy-and-throw-your-beer-in-the-air festival anthems ever. How did it get to this point?

You could blame the Twitter outbursts, the on-stage meltdowns or the pigeon-poo gig debacle (Google them). But it really started with Come Around Sundown, the Tennessee band's fifth album that served as the mellow afterparty to the main event.

It was a fan-splitting fizzer that failed to match the surefire stadium spit and polish of 2008's Only By the Night.

Along with the carnage that followed, it was starting to feel like Kings of Leon were securing themselves a spot in the Rock Star Cliche history books.

Mechanical Bull won't fix that. Instead of kicking and bucking like the title suggests, King's of Leon's sixth album rolls by on autopilot.

It sounds less like the three-brothers-and-their-cousin that used to make effortlessly rugged countrified anthems, and more like a band trying to remember exactly what it is they're supposed to do.

Yet Mechanical Bull gets off to a great start. The rollicking rodeo stomp of Supersoaker deftly mixes the raw and ragged power of the Tennessee's band's first two albums with the anthemic sheen of the latter two, as frontman Caleb Followill bellows about being left alone by yet another girl. It's a mature step forward, and hints at great things to come.

But they never eventuate. Aside from the well-timed hooks and subtle coos of Temple, and Tonight's slow-building frenzy, few songs here sound like they want to reverberate around a 20,000-seat venue. Tracks like the meandering Beautiful War and the contemplative Wait For Me would be more comfortable being strummed around a campfire.

Others, like Rock City's yelps and whoops, and Don't Matter's familiar full frontal assault, ape previous song structures with diminishing returns.

Caleb's lyrics don't help. "I am your family tree, I know your A to Z," he sings on the jaunty shenanigans of Family Tree, a song that sounds like a Billy Joel reject and comes with a gospel-tinged breakdown.

Comeback Story employs an awkward orchestral arrangement and lyrics that sound like a set-up for a bad joke: "I walk a mile in your shoes. And now I'm a mile away. And I've got your shoes."

Even the best track here, Supersoaker, talks about "sentimental girls".

Where's the debauchery? The drunken nights? The endless road trips into epic sunsets? The bad girls doing bad things with bad boys? Where have the Kings of Leon we know and love gone?

"I can feel it coming back again," Caleb sings at one point, a hopeful sign for the future.

But if this really was a mechanical bull, it'd be sitting in the corner of a dive bar, beer stained, broken down, dusty and unloved.

Stars: 2/5
Verdict: Countrified rockers continue their descent.
Click here to buy Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon

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