The Gift Down Below

Slightest pal The Threshold passed along this link about the latest Kings of Leon album "dropping" ("dropping" being a term long associated with the band) that contains this bombastic nugget:

"I hate fucking hipsters. Everyone talks about indie this and indie that, but would you really want to be one of those indie bands that makes two albums and disappears? That's just sad . . . When we signed on with our manager, we all said we wanted to have a box-set career. We'll gladly be the next generation of bands that aren't going anywhere."

Set aside the snipe at "hipsters" for a minute — because if hipsters didn't exist, entities like Kings of Leon would have to invent them. What really stuck out is the Clinton-esque "place in history" notion of a box-set career. Maybe I'm being too Andy Rooney here, but since when did "rock bands" look forward to a box-set career? Maybe it's Rolling Stone's fault. Maybe it's LeBron's fault. Maybe it's a lot of things' fault that don't immediately and conveniently roll off the tongue, but the notion of a band positioning itself in advance to look forward to its induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame seems a little . . . unseemly.

That's all OK though — we all like to dream. Who hasn't hit the game-winning free throw in his or her driveway? Who hasn't already composed his or her own Oscar acceptance speech? But if the Kings of Leon ever put out a box set, I hope they call it "Gift Down Below: Best Of KoL, 1999-2014" (2014 seems like a pretty good time to go out on top, no?).

Why "Gift Down Below"?

Threshold is an inveterate KoL fan. Maybe it's the soaring hooks. Maybe it's the ruggedly good looks. Maybe it's just the skinny jeans. But one song on the band's 2008 album Only by the Night stuck out like a sore thumb for her, and it wasn't the absurdly dopey "Sex on Fire" (incidentally, also one of Jayson Werth's walk-up songs last season). It's "I Want You," track 9 — one of those box-set omissions that sort of fill up the last quarter of an album.

Threshold noticed some strange lyrics about two-thirds of the way through the song, and upon further review, determined that these were the lines:

Homeboy's so proud — he finally got the video proof
The night vision shows she was only ducking the truth
It's heavy I know — black guy with a gift down below
A choke and a gag — she spit up and came back for more

Well, OK then! This verse fueled a long car-ride parsing the possible meaning. First we wanted to know who actually writes that kind of lyric. Some of us allowed that maybe he was a storyteller kind of, you know, creating a character or something and eventually we reached a sort of consensus — "I Want You" was a small-town tale of thwarted teenage love, sort of Norman Rockwell meets Cheaters.

And yet. And yet. There's still that lyric.

Now YouTube is good for many things, not least of which being Kings of Leon covers played by enthusiastic amateurs. A year ago I found a bunch of covers "I Want You," including one by a young woman who could barely bring herself to sing that last verse. She has since taken down the video. Another, however — sung by a duo for whom English does not appear to be their first language — persists online (the verse comes in at about 2:30):

This is the band itself playing the song live in 2008 (again, the verse comes in at about 2:30):

Like I said, weird. Weird that lead singer Caleb Followill doesn't really flinch when he sings those lines.

So, "place in history" — the confounding thing about worrying about one's place in history — especially in pop music — is that people are so often wrong about it. Yes, there have been some wonderful reappreciations of bands over the years, but the kind of stuff that would make the Hall of Fame seems kind of catch-as-catch-can.

One of my favorite examples is Bob Seger, or at least New York Times critic John Rockwell's perceptions of Bob Seger way back when. Today, Seger is probably best known for single-handedly, self-consciously jumpstarting the classic rock genre — "Old Time Rock and Roll" is as curmudgeonly as it gets, and it's 1978 release year seems a little premature (Caleb Followill, just so you know, was born in 1982) to be perseverating on existential threats to the genre.

Anyway, Rockwell, who last served at the Times as its dance critic, acknowledged in his December 26, 1976 year-end rock music wrapup (.pdf at the link) that "[t]he most interesting of all the trends one could discern was the growing, world-wide interest in 'punk rock.'" And while there were some examples he picks out that turned out to look fairly good in retrospect, he kind of misses the boat in general:

New York's punk-rockers tend to be mixed up with a self-conscious conceptual artiness (Patti Smith, Talking Heads, the Ramones) which has its genuine charms but which sometimes takes the music and the image rather far from punk primitivism. Closer really to the true punk-rock spirit are such midwestern perennials as Bob Seger, who himself made an appealing bid for a nationwide appreciation with a fine live album and an even finer studio album in 1976.

The Future Of The Kingdom

So where does that leave us? Brother Michael insists that Kings of Leon are the Eddie Money of this generation. I appreciate that but I think that they're really more like .38 Special (think "Hold On Loosely"). This may sound like nitpicking, but I'm less interested in bands that work with talented producers than I am fascinated by bands that have their own unique take on their sound — perhaps you could sneer at the latter with a slur like "indie".

Let's investigate "Use Somebody," the band's best-known hit. It's well crafted in the way that Hillary Duff's "Come Clean" is well crafted, but there's something that leaves me cold about the song — that and the concept of "using someone like you" reminds me of George Peppard assembling the A-Team.

Threshold also recently passed along this compendium of "Use Somebody" covers, some of which are just astonishing. The Paramore cover snowed many smart people but the best of the bunch seems to be the Nickelback version:

Chad Kroeger turns the gain up so much on the three stories of amplifiers — dig that chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk! guitar sound — that it sucks any "subtlety" right out of the song — he does yeoman's work in splitting the thing open and exposing it for the fluff it is . . .

Don't get me wrong, I'll gladly purchase the future Kings of Leon box set for all manner of loved ones — but just as long as their producers comply with my title request, and just as long as "I Want You" is the first track on disc three.

Posted: October 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: FW: Link | Tags: , ,

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