When Kings Of Leon followed the straightforward, gritty Southern-rock album Youth & Young Manhood with the esoteric Aha Shake Heartbreak, they signaled that they were going to be one of those bands—like a Wilco or a Radiohead, preferring to explore rather than entertain. Kings Of Leon's journey into deconstruction continues on album number three, Because Of The Times, which contains 13 songs that don't sound like "songs," per se, but more like bridges, codas, and reprises, cobbled together into one long mood piece. It's telling that the press material for Because Of The Times refers to the new song "Black Thumbnail" as "an arena-rock anthem," yet once "Black Thumbnail" gets past its bouncy guitar opening, it quickly lurches toward ear-splitting dissonance. It's a catchy song, but it'd only sound appropriate at the kind of arenas where gladiators pound on each other.
So Because Of The Times isn't likely to make anyone forget Lynyrd Skynyrd. But it's still one of the most consistently surprising and vibrant rock records since, arguably, Aha Shake Heartbreak. Some of those surprises aren't so pleasant: When Kings Of Leon make a dub move on the spacey "On Call," or lay into a little redneck funk on "My Party," they seem to be indulging in weirdness for its own sake. For the most part, though, Because Of The Times is an album of striking textures, on which Caleb Followill's lazy voice strains against skittering guitars, softly thumping drum rolls, and rapidly percolating bass. The record occasionally breaks for revved-up post-punkers like "McFearless" and "Camaro," elegiac ballads like "The Runner" and "Arizona," or pop gems like "Fans." But mostly, Because Of The Times follows its own eccentric muse at its own fitful pace. It takes its cues from the opening song, "Knocked Up," a slow-simmering, seven-minute meditation on a life in transition, steeped in echo and potential.