Aha Shake Heartbreak
By: Eric Greenwood
As an avid despiser of "southern rock" and pretty much anything that holds onto the south as the root of its identity, I was skeptical of Kings of Leon's schtick from the get go. Ostensibly from Nashville (yet none of my friends deeply involved in the Nashville music scene had ever even heard of them before they were signed), Kings of Leon gained prominence in the hyperbolic British press, which only provided me with another reason to mistrust this band's legitimacy.
This batch of shaggy haired, youthful know-nothings from the backwoods of Tennessee, Kings of Leon, played adequate country rock with a hint of southern twang and not an ounce of irony on its debut, Youth and Young Manhood. But the record did little to spark my interest above mere novelty. I chalked them up to a post-Strokes record company signing frenzy and forgot about them utterly- bad mustaches, mullet-haircuts and all.
When I first heard Aha Shake Heartbreak, the band's sophomore effort, I lamented the painful title. What is it with this band and its linguistically challenged titles? I quickly realized that the titles actually correlated well with the music. Random, yet perversely insightful, Kings of Leon's music sounds like the work of idiot savants. Caleb Followill's impossibly unintelligible drawl slurs lazily through the most stilted and awkward verse, yet there are flashes of enigmatic brilliance the average songwriter would likely never stumble upon.
The sublimely infectious single, "The Bucket", still carries with it the weight of the Strokes' limited musical influence with its repetitive and simplistic indie rock guitars, but it's Followill's distinctive voice that edges the song above the status quo. His inflection reeks of heartache and genuine longing, and his harmonizing with his brothers is both pristine and affecting. I was bowled over to hear it on commercial alternative radio, but it's so clearly superior to the dreck that swamps the Budweiser-underwritten airwaves that it feels like a sucker-punch in the gut.
The idea that this band is some sort of manufactured product lessens with every song on Aha Shake Heartbreak, particularly on the neo-psychedelic "Milk" and the CCR-inspired "Day Old Blues." Followill's ludicrous musings coupled with his band's exaggerated doe-eyed obliviousness to current musical trends lends a level of authenticity to the tangential country bends. Being sons (and one cousin) of a preacher man doesn't hurt the southern gothic mystique, either. The lyrical terrain is insultingly common (girls, life on the road, girls), yet the band has such an idiosyncratic method of expression that makes these everyday themes sound – at least over the course of each song – radically inspired.