KINGS OF LEON

Because of the Times (RCA)

So far in their careers, the Nashville-based bluesmen in Kings of Leon have been cursed with a middling sort of success: neither garage-y enough to please purists nor flat-out rock enough to appeal to the Skynyrd set. They feel the weight of the world. Heavily. These guys make Michael Stipe seem like Katharine McPhee. On this, their third record, they've dug themselves down to a new nadir of self-seriousness, writing a dirty, fuzzy, desperately indie-spirited collection that leads off with a seven-minute ditty called "Knocked Up," which is about a pregnancy in the same ancillary way Midnight Express was a travelogue about Turkey. It's sad, driving and shot with petulant flashes of anger. And, no, it will never be played on the radio. That's all right: It sounds like a secret. Elsewhere they skew more mass, distilling their rage on "Charmer" -- in which singer Caleb Followill punctuates a simple rhyme scheme with metallic shrieks ("She stole my karma, oh no [shriek!]/ Sold it to the farm-ah, oh no [shriek!]")-and proving they can be pretty, like on the road-weary "Arizona." Still, this isn't music for everyone. But it's strong enough for the Kings of Leon to have carved out a niche. And anyone who finds catharsis in mope-rock won't be disappointed.

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