10 Years Ago: Kings of Leon’s ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ Album Released
Lead singer Caleb Followill’s cracking, screamed-out, whiskey-damaged Southern drawl smacked of John Fogerty — not his soft-rocker hits, but rather CCR’s dirtier, bluesier cuts. And guitarist Matthew Followill displayed flashes of sheer brilliance in his lead work, peeling off tasty riffs.
Like any young band starving for the media’s attention, the Kings also had a great back-story, which made for a solid paragraph or two in every KoL feature that ran that year. Followill brothers Caleb (vocals/rhythm guitar), Nathan (drums) and Jared (bass) had grown up as the children of a traveling preacher. The three brought in cousin Matthew (lead guitar) to fill out the lineup after moving to the mecca of country music, Nashville. Lore is a big deal for young bands; it certainly helped sell KoL’s ragged, ’70s-rock image, which can be seen on the cover of their debut, ‘Youth and Young Manhood.’
When ‘Youth’ hit shelves 10 years ago today, there were some grumblings that they were just another Strokes knockoff. Indeed, several of the songs feature similar minimalist, repeating rhythm guitar; punchy, thrumming bass lines; and plastic production. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. And in the years since, Kings of Leon have eclipsed the Strokes in sound, saleability and influence — by leaps and bounds. The chrysalis of this can be heard on ‘Youth.’
Cut partly at Sound City, the studio mythologized in a recent Dave Grohl documentary, and at Shangri-La Studios, also in Southern California, ‘Youth’ is a driving, thunderous debut album from start to finish. The set of songs is eclectic, but not overly so. Opener ‘Red Morning Light’ is remiscent of the White Stripes’ ‘Fell in Love with a Girl’ and features a deliciously Dave Davies-esque guitar solo from Matthew. ‘Trani,’ meanwhile, is a down-tempo country-rock tune that morphs into a dirty rock waltz. ‘California Waiting,’ one of the album’s singles, boasts a borderline-great chorus — something the band would build on with later albums (see: ‘Sex On Fire’).
Throughout the album, Caleb’s vocals sound have an authentic screamed-to-the-brink quality, and on songs like ‘Spiral Staircase,’ he sounds a lot like the late Bon Scott of AC/DC. Also of note is the band’s chunky rhythm section, another aspect of KoL’s sound that would set them apart from their contemporaries. (Fast-forward to a song like ‘Closer,’ from 2008’s ‘Only by the Night,’ for more proof of this.)
‘Youth and Young Manhood’ landed in the U.K. nearly a full month before its U.S. release, and it’s perhaps for that reason the band has earned such a tremendous following there and abroad. While ‘Youth’ only reached No. 113 on the Billboard 200, it climbed to a spectacular No. 3 on the U.K. charts, giving the young outfit a bona fide hit. In the wake of their Euro successes, Volkswagen — who helped re-launch the career of obscure British folkie Nick Drake — later used the Kings’ single ‘Molly’s Chambers’ in a Jetta commercial.
Certainly, the KoL’s subsequent blockbusters have overshadowed this album, but it’s worth a re-listen — especially for comparison’s sake. Play it back-to-back with the 2004 follow-up, ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak,’ to hear how grown-up the band got in such a short period of time.