On their fourth album, the Kings of Leon still rule with a messy hand, applying rough magic and blurry, slurred imagery to their swashbuckling rock. Sonically more Stones than Skynyrd, the Nashville quartet still travel the haunted ground between sin and redemption that their Dixie forefathers have tilled since the Allman brothers first wailed”Whipping Post” at the end of the ’60s.
The album is named after a line in “Eleonora,” an Edgar Allan Poe short story about love and forgiveness beyond the grave, and the reference gives the proceedings agothic chill. “Closer,” Only by the Night‘s opening track, finds singer-guitarist Caleb Followill busted in a “spooky town,” lamenting a mystery woman who “took my heart — I think she took my soul.”
The rest of the record is an epic journey to get both back. The Kings (Followill plus two siblings and cousin) stop at the intersection of geopolitics and prophecy for the angsty prog of “Crawl,” which shimmers with hallucinatory religiosity and woozy guitars, before moving on to the blinding tryst “Sex on Fire.” Caleb ponders the Native American’s sorry bargain on “Manhattan” before tumbling from grace on “I Want You,” with brother Nathan’s slow trash-can drums thudding like the Stooges’ Scott Asheton might play if you woke him up in the middle of the night. Nightmarish and surreal, the quest ends at “The Cold Desert,” which recasts Patti Smith’s claim that “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” Apparently not for the Followills’, either.