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Review: ‘Can We Please Have Fun’ answers own question with resounding yes

Kings of Leon releases ninth studio album, delivers soulful variety of sounds, themes
Courtesy of LoveTap Records, LLC, under exclusive license to Capital Records

Kings of Leon, the Nashville-formed band of Followill brothers Jared (bass), Caleb (lead vocalist) and Nathan (guitarist) and cousin Matthew (drums), fully released its ninth studio album “Can We Please Have Fun” on Friday, May 10. The band released singles “Mustang,” “Split Screen” and “Nothing To Do” in weeks leading up to the full release, introducing the album’s themes of modern life and social disconnection in styles both reminiscent of the past and newly heartfelt and vulnerable.

The opening tracks “Ballerina Radio” and “Rainbow Ball” overlay ghostly synth and bell tones with upbeat bass lines and choruses. “Ballerina Radio” portrays a person’s self isolation, chosen even if it leads to a stale life, expressed in the line “I’m a masochist, I know.” The theme of social disconnection recurs throughout the album, but “Rainbow Ball” pushes them aside with bittersweet memories of old friends and the line “there’s only good vibrations at the rainbow ball.” The entire track sounds like denial of aging and said social fallout.

The third track “Nowhere To Run” drifts between describing these anxieties to groovy guitar-driven choruses where the lyrics portray running — or at least trying — to escape discussing them or acknowledging the state of the world. The line “are we still having fun?” advertised the album and captures the existential or mid-life crisis it seems to revolve around.

“Can We Please Have Fun” peaks with “Mustang,” the first single released on Thursday, Feb. 22. Its catchy bass line, loud chorus and chord progression give off a vintage Kings of Leon feel, an easy choice for a leading single. Both “Mustang” and “Nowhere To Run” illustrate a modern lifestyle and have a similar moment of emotionally avoiding nearby issues: in the former, a speaker reacts to a distressed airplane scene with “I’m just waiting for a beverage to accompany my pie,” while the latter mentions a child’s operation followed by “I could not be bothered to pretend to care.”

For a while, the album mellows out in “Actual Daydream,” “Split Screen” and “Don’t Stop The Bleeding.” The first is driven by a surfy or country guitar line as the speaker continues to avoid outside connection, saying “it never hurts to try is such a stupid lie.” The sixth and seventh songs use a similar pulse at the calmest and most vulnerable part of the album. “Split Screen” is a sweet-sounding commentary on watching years go by not only for oneself but for a loved one who isn’t as close anymore. “Don’t Stop The Bleeding” serves as an uplifting comfort song telling someone to “go on and write your story,” alongside positive reminders like “you always make me smile” and “It’s never going to take your place.”

“Nothing To Do” takes an almost frantic turn to this pain of disconnection since the song title in context is “you want nothing to do with love.” The tempo is much quicker, the soft pulse replaced by a bass line with sudden, short pitch changes that invoke urgency and anxiety. The lyrics, often spoken or screamed, describe watching from afar as people the speaker cares about age and change, tucked behind a driving guitar rhythm overlaying the bass line.

After the rush of worried yells, “M Television,” “Conversation Gen,” “Ease Me On” and “Seen” round out the album with occasionally calm, occasionally rock-infused passages. The songs describe an improvement to the speaker’s loneliness by rekindling the lost connections previously mentioned. Instead of earlier fears, the lyrics ask “How can I ever change if I never try?” and finally enjoy their time with another person “waiting for the day to never end.”

“Can We Please Have Fun” is well-deserving of better reception than recent albums like “WALLS” and “When You See Yourself,” both of which dabbled in moodier topics with less success than Kings of Leon’s earlier work. Like the title and slogan represent, reception took a backseat to writing music straight from the soul. For its vulnerability in thematic choices, wide variety of musical sounds and interpretations to topics, Kings of Leon’s latest record earns an 8.9 out of 10, sure to provide a mix of comfort, insight and enjoyment to listeners.

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