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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Music Review: Kings of Leon electrify with new album that nods to the past, 'Can We Please Have Fun'

    This image released by Capitol Records shows "Can We Please Have Fun" by Kings of Leon. (Capitol Records via AP)

    Kings of Leon pose an existential question to listeners on the first single from their new album: Are you a mustang or are you a kitty? Well, turning that around: Which Kings of Leon are we getting now? The purring arena-rockers or an edgy, untamed stallion?

    Judging from the 12 tracks on “Can We Please Have Fun,” it's time to pull out a saddle. There's a raw unpredictability to the band's ninth album, a welcome return to the Kings' early sawdust-and-spilled-beer days. Yes, we can definitely have fun here.

    Brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan Followill, and cousin Matthew Followill have put out the new album 21 years after their debut, “Youth & Young Manhood” and it's more like their first recordings and easily their best in years.

    A punky, garage feel flows through many of the tracks, with the bass and drums cranking and Caleb Followill's voice cracking on tracks like “Hesitation Generation” and “Nothing to Do.” “Actual Daydream” has a country-infused indie vibe, and first single “Mustang” is angular and strutting, while “Don't Stop the Bleeding” is a sultry arena banger and “Nowhere to Run” makes your heart pump faster.

    But it's “Split Screen” that is the album's brightest track, a slow burn built around a guitar noodle and with enigmatic lyrics that nod to a mid-life crisis and parental angst ("hyperventilation," “set it down before your break it” and "big plan. Let's cancel"). It's hypnotic, and easily one of the band's best, the perfect mix of minimalist mixed with coiled power.

    The album is produced by Kid Harpoon, who has sharpened albums by Harry Styles, Florence + The Machine and Miley Cyrus. It's the first time Harpoon has worked with the Kings. The combo has somehow lanced the inflated, mighty Kings and brought them closer to the jagged sound they started with.

    Lyric-wise, sex on fire has been replaced by crying babies on airplanes and hair extensions. But this is a band that even in midlife is embracing their inner mustangs, not kitties. “If I could be so bold all the time,” go the lyrics to “Split Screen” — perhaps a prayer for them, and for us.

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    Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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    AP music reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews

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