Almost every band that achieves superstardom has a definable turning point in its career, where it goes from being just another band to a phenomenon. For Kings of Leon, this turning point took place with their third album, Because of the Times, which was released on April 2, 2007, in the United Kingdom (April 3 in the United States) and changed the band’s trajectory forever.
Before the album came out, Kings of Leon had a great backstory and a couple of records under their belt, but it wasn’t clear they were going to be anything more than another Southern-fried indie-rock band struggling to break through to mainstream consciousness.
The backstory is well known by now. The group is composed of three brothers – Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill – and their cousin, Matthew Followill. The brothers grew up as the sons of an itinerant preacher, driving from Southern town to Southern town as their father held tent revivals. Eventually, the two older brothers, Caleb and Nathan, moved to Nashville, where they were exposed to contemporary music for essentially the first time.
They started playing music of their own, with Caleb singing and Nathan drumming. After attracting the interest of some record labels, they convinced their younger brother Jared – who was a freshman in high school at the time – to play bass for them and “kidnapped” their cousin Matthew, who lived in Mississippi, to play lead guitar. As Nathan recounted to Billboard in 2009, the newly formed band then “locked ourselves in the basement with an ounce of marijuana and literally spent a month down there.” When they emerged, they had enough songs to start thinking about recording an EP, and their career was born.
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Two full-length albums — 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood and 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak — followed. Although neither album sold well in the States, both did well abroad, particularly in England and Ireland, where the group’s blend of roots-rock and post-punk became instantly popular, as did their American-South, gospel-drenched legend.
It didn’t hurt that the band projected an air of good-humored self-deprecation. “We just love all kinds of music because the way we grew up, we didn’t get to listen to music, so in the last five years we’ve gotten to catch up on the last 30 years of music that’s been made,” Nathan explained to Marquee Magazine in 2007. “So, I just heard of this band called the Beatles, I think they’re going to be huge. I think they’re going to sell quite a bit of records.”
This overseas success earned the band spots opening for acts like U2, Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam. At this point, Kings of Leon seemed to sense that they were on the cusp of stardom, but they needed something to push them over the edge. “We started thinkin’, ‘Man, we need to start making music that’s gonna sound good in a sweaty club for 300 kids but will also sound great in Madison Square Garden,'” Nathan told Uncut in 2008.
The result was Because of the Times, an album that represented a massive jump in ambition and showcased the band’s willingness to take chances in pursuit of the sound it wanted.
While Kings of Leon’s first two records were straight-ahead affairs that gave Southern rock a contemporary twist, Because of the Times pushed things in a host of new directions. There are moments, like the seven-minute opener “Knocked Up,” that borrow from prog-rock in their orchestration and approach. On “Charmer,” the band leans into a ’90s post-grunge Pixies vibe, while “On Call” betrays the quartet’s Britpop affinities.
Watch Kings of Leon’s ‘On Call’ Video
Lurking behind all of this — and coming to the fore on anthemic tracks that keep popping up on the record, like “Black Thumbnail” and “My Party” — was the awareness that Kings of Leon might soon be playing stadiums, and they’d better start writing some songs that would go over well in that setting.
That’s not to say Because of the Times sounds like a calculated or cynical ploy to jump to stardom by pretending they had already achieved it. Instead, the album amplifies the same youthful, lovable energy that permeated the band’s sound from the beginning. On Because of the Times, Kings of Leon sound like a bunch of kids reveling in the newfound discovery of their own capabilities.
With Because of the Times, Kings of Leon took a gamble that they could be more than what they had been to date — and it paid off.
The stage was set. The four lovable rockers with a charming story were poised to become a musical force to be reckoned with — and that’s indeed what happened. The band’s next three albums — 2008’s Only By the Night, 2010’s Come Around Sundown and 2013’s Mechanical Bull — were all nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album, and Kings of Leon were soon topping charts and headlining festivals around the world. They haven’t looked back since.
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