Monday, March 16, 2020

I'd Love to Turn You On #252: Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004)

            In 2004 Kings of Leon (brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill plus cousin Matthew Followill) weren’t the Kings of Leon we came to know in 2008 after MTV got their grubby corporate hands on them, made them cut their hair, take a shower and hit it big with “Sex on Fire” off their fourth studio album. In 2004 the sons of a Pentecostal preacher were dirty, long-haired dudes in their early twenties (one of them even a teenager) living in Nashville, and Aha Shake Heartbreak is their rebellion album. They wanted to make an album that just came to them, without a record label breathing down their necks. So they made Aha Shake Heartbreak, an all-out jangly garage rock album with mostly unintelligible and a little bit questionable lyrics. 
            Aha Shake Heartbreak is the only Kings of Leon album with a parental advisory label. You may not be able to understand most of what lead singer Caleb Followill is singing but believe me, it deserves that parental advisory. I had been listening to this album on repeat for years before I looked up the lyrics, I had always just sung along with what I thought he was saying. I was in for quite the surprise when looking up lyrics to some of my favorite tracks off the album. If y’all thought “Sex on Fire” was vulgar just take a look at “Soft” - never knew he was singing about perfect nipples, being “passed out in your garden” and umm…soft. Or “Rememo,” which I always saw as a swinging, twangy slow jam about nothing. Turns out it’s about the flirty girls they encountered on tour in Europe, some of which may have been young - but there was a 17 year old in the band. Or my personal favorite “Taper Jean Girl” - this song was my morning alarm for all of high school, one of the only things that would be loud enough to wake me up (the other being an air horn but that's a story for another time). It also has that word that rhymes with punt that shouldn’t be used in mixed company, which blew my mind when I found out they were saying it. If Caleb wasn’t singing, I think people would be way more in tune with just how dirty the songs on this album are, but he is and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would sound like if he wasn’t. He is all over the damn place and I love it. The rest of the band just seem to feed off of his rollercoaster singing, responding with their own out of control sound. There are many points in this album where it seems like everything is going to go off the rails, like in “Soft,” or “Razz” where you get this all-out freakout that makes you just want to just flail around, or “Taper Jean Girl,” which kicks off with a wall of sound lead by a big bass line. Even “King of the Rodeo” has such a good beat that it’s perfect for two stepping, as shown in the music video, or just flailing around, as shown in my car. All in all I love this album for the sound way more than the lyrics. I liked the chaotic noise, which I would say sounds best blasting out of a car stereo. It’s the kind of album you listen to on a road trip when you are trying to stay awake; I know this because I’ve done that with great success.
            I’ve never seen Kings of Leon live, and to be really honest, I don’t think I want to. Unless someone invents a time machine and I can go back to 2004 and see them at Exit/In in Nashville, cause I would do that in a heartbeat. It sucked seeing the Kings of Leon I knew, dirty long haired boys, get turned into a clean-shaven, cookie cutter, man-band. There was something charming about those quirky, dirty, long-haired boys that was gone not that long after Aha Shake Heartbreak came out. You can see hints of the weird on their third album - mostly in the first two tracks “Charmer” and “Knocked Up” - but they had cut their hair and started dating supermodels at that point. I’d like to think if 2004 Kings of Leon met 2020 Kings of Leon they would probably beat the crap out of them. I think it would be a fair beating.

- Anna Lathem

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