Come Around Sundown
Kings of Leon (Sony)
The difference between Kings of Leon and The Black Crowes is that the former shook their moneymakers better than the latter. The Crowes were once the bad (and golden) boys of rock 'n' roll - hell-raising dope-smokers with hit tunes and Southern swagger in the 1990s. The brothers Robinson followed up their take-notice Shake Your Money Maker debut album with two even better ones, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and Amorica, but then it all kind of went south. The Crowes, hard to handle, didn't play the game. And the band, after its current Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys tour, is about to go on another one of its hiatuses.
The Kings of Leon? They're bigger than ever - bigger than the Crowes ever were - and their new album, Come Around Sundown, shows why. It's a corporate record, designed to fill coffers and arenas; it's chilly, at times dour, although it occasionally (and surprisingly and refreshingly) relaxes; it's Bono-serious, with hallooing vocals reaching for the back rows with dubious emotion; it sticks to the same intense alt-rock, mid-tempo template that resulted in the band's monster hits, Use Somebody and Sex on Fire (both from 2008's breakthrough Only by the Night); and while it doesn't have Only by the Night's surefire smashes, it's stronger head-to-toe.
Come Around Sundown starts despondently, if tiredly. The End uses a spare bass line and shimmering white-noise effect, with the tobacco-chomping singer Caleb Followill all morose-like: "This could be the end" and "I ain't got no home." The bass-grooved first single Radioactive, in the vein of Arcade Fire or Talking Heads, registers strongly on the Geiger counter, with its catchy and uplifting chorus, its tingling guitar motif and soul-sista outro.
Mary, with its old-fashioned Phil Spector sound and Brill Building melody, is quite contrary. And Mi Amigo, like a Mexican border bounder, is hard to pin down. A relaxed, halting rhythm and drawled vocals somehow work with the spikey guitar fills and vague Tex-Mex vibe.
Lyrics, on the whole, don't intrigue. Still, on the breezy lilt of Birthday, the inspired rhyme of "Your come-on legs and your pantyhose/ you look so precious with your bloody nose" is priceless imagery.
Once described derisively as the cross-eyed Stokes, the band of Followills (three brothers and one cousin) have gone from mountain to Manhattan, Pentecostal to platinum, moonshine to martini. The Kings of Leon wear skinny jeans and court unimaginable babes. So even though the new disc includes the wistful, barn-danced Back Down South - "If you wanna go, I'm gonna go" - how are you going to keep the boys down on the farm any more?
OTHER NEW RELEASES THIS WEEK
Swanlights Antony and the Johnsons (Secretly Canadian)
"A dream of nature as she lies dying" - I can't top Antony Hegarty's own description of this album, whose 11 contemplative songs hover somewhere between lament and celebration. You can hear them as a sunlit, multipart dirge for the Earth we're abusing, but I think they're also about the ordinary miracle of renewal that, in nature, is always entwined with destruction. Everything Is New, Ghost, The Spirit Was Gone and several other songs examine the mysterious point at which something is released into a new unknown state. The carnality of Antony's previous records all but disappears behind this metaphysical program, though the sounds - glimmering piano, cloud-like strings and Antony's tremulous alto - remain much the same, as does his yearning for radiant simplicity. The only big swerve away from the disc's strict thematic and musical consistency comes in Thank You for Your Love, in which a swinging horn section reconnects Antony with his earthy soul roots. Robert Everett-Green
Twilights The Winks (Oh! Records/Castle in the Clouds)
There is another world, but it's inside this one, writes Paul Éluard, who could have been referring to the little miracles of perception hinted at on this inside-far-out album by Montreal's the Winks. I've never seen an arid place as lush as the one depicted in Wildlife of the Desert, a simple reverb-laden tune that expands to fill every inch of the visual field (check out Epher Heilland's kaleidscopic video at youtube.com/watch?v=ZxeyNo5qZkE). It's kind of amazing what sparkly, ragged ruckus can be raised from Todd Macdonald's mandolin and Tyr Jami's cello (with percussion by Joshua Zubot and sounds electronic by the Soren brothers), as they scronk out in tunes like Water Park, dig into a polka in Seasons, or waltz through a Halloween dream in the wildly misnamed Blue Tango. Macdonald's wondering baritone plays indie Everyman to the Paperbag Princess of Tyr Jami's girlish soprano. R. E.-G.
Handel: Berenice, Regina d'Egitto Il Complesso Barocco; Alan Curtis, director (Virgin Classics)
Handel's 1737 opera Berenice flopped: Three hours of music, composed in six weeks, performed at most four times. One could blame the plot, a typical Italian convolution of unrequited loves and incompatible obligations, in which duty unconvincingly trumps passion and all ends well once there's a man husbanding the throne. And yet the music is - as one 18th-century listener phrased it - sublime. Alan Curtis has assembled a remarkable cast, much of it Italian, that includes not a few women sounding like men who sound like women and a plummy countertenor whose virile coloratura rivals that of the soprano in the eponymous leading role. The story may be dumb but the singing is splendid. Elissa Poole
I'm Not a Human Being Lil' Wayne (Cash Money/Universal)
Lil' Wayne scaled hip hop's heights with a two-pronged attack: free digital mixtapes and high-calibre studio albums. The former offered immediacy over polish while full-length Tha Carter III was a full-blown classic. Human Being splits the difference. Rush-recorded before jail, the songs can feel like posthumous Tupac tracks. Weezy sounds exuberant but detached amid his synth beats and special guests - and despite prison bearing down, he ignores his anxieties in favour of been-there, rapped-that party rhymes. An off-game Wayne still flows fiercer (and weirder) than most modern MCs - and white-hot protégés Drake and Nicki Minaj add oomph - but Human could've been called I'm Not Tha Carter IV. Joshua Ostroff