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Published: 2005/04/04
by Brian Gearing

Aha Shake Heartbreak – Kings of Leon

The music sages have confirmed it — Kings of Leon have indeed avoided the dreaded sophomore slump — so everyone can just relax and watch the Tennessee quartet grow into worldly adulthood. While their debut, Youth and Young Manhood, was an adolescent cry for independence from a gangly garage band of brothers who couldn’t help but let their Southern core show through, Aha Shake Heartbreak is a full-grown celebration of the freedoms and burdens of an adulthood lived around the world.

The Followills' adoration of New York punk-chic, just hinted at on their freshman release, is given full voice on the follow-up. Their raw, jagged riffing gets a long, smooth buffing on the opening trio of "Slow Night So Long" and the Strokesy "King of the Rodeo" and "Taper Jean Girl." A palatable longing for lost innocence runs through "Milk" and "The Bucket," while "Soft" mourns the death of youth and vents the frustrations of the whiskey-fueled wear and tear of their new rock and roll lifestyle.

The preacher's sons try hard to cover their Southern skin, but even the most odorous Manhattan pop perfume can't cover up the gritty, red-clay scent beneath their vintage wardrobe. The roughneck, street-fightin' stomp of "Pistol of Fire" and "Razz" wanders down the dark alleys of tobacco warehouses, and "Four Kicks" gets a bruising from Nathan Followill's punishing drums but scraps to the death, crusted with blood and sweat. The opening acoustic softness of "Day Old Blues" is reminiscent of the Allman Brothers' "Melissa," and Caleb Followill's yodeling vocals threaten to pull the sheer silk curtain on Kings of Leon's Southern wizard.

The band's aversion to the "Southern rock" label seems pointless when one considers that rock and roll is, and always has been, Southern at heart, but the Followills are insistent in their denial. They're getting better at it, too. While Youth and Young Manhood sounded at times like an Arkansas hill country hick trying to blend in at a Manhattan socialite cocktail party, Aha Shake Heartbreak has transformed them into the eclectic Southerner — shining on the sophistication, but still radiating a warm, Southern charm.

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