I am flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi, with America’s hottest band, and we are all about to die

Actually, I’m on a train packed full of sweaty commuters pulling out of London Bridge Station and the fellow next to me obviously had no time for a post-corporate-workout shower. So, nausea more than death, really.

There’s only one way to combat the painful rush-hour crawl home. I have, jammed into my battered up Discman (that’s right, a Discman), a copy of the most hyped release since the 11th of February 1990 when Nelson Mandela walked a free man; Kings of Leon’s Only by the Night.

I’m expecting to be blown away by a group who have never been afraid to challenge themselves, or their fans, with something new. Armed with ever-maturing, ever-evolving, well crafted song writing and technical prowess, Kings of Leon have earned themselves the tag of ‘Hottest Property in Rock and Roll.’ I’m very, very excited.

The most striking first impressions of the Followill’s 2008 collection are Caleb’s vocals, which effortlessly range from slow lazy crawl to full-steam charge. For an example of this just press play and, as that disc starts whirring, check out ‘Closer’. The cocky front-man shows an ever-maturing understanding of the need for space within melody, which allows for the other three cars of this rock and roll locomotive to roll into platform one.

It’s an offer the others don’t shy away from. The ever-green chemistry between bass player Jared and drummer Nathan just keeps on blossoming. There’s so much to indulge in here for the groove lovers; ‘Crawl’, ‘Sex on Fire’, ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Notion’, to name the most blatant examples. There seems to be an attention to detail with these boys that other folks just don’t get, and it rocks.

However, let us not get carried away with ourselves. Where is the freight of raw guitars and cojones we’re used to hearing from these Tennessee bad-boys? For some reason Matt’s beautifully toned guitar is irritatingly low in the mix on just about every track. With the exception of the aformentioned ‘Crawl’ and ‘Notion’ Caleb’s dirty distortion appears to have been replaced by copied and pasted U2 guitar settings, ‘delay’ being the last word I want to hear right now. As for cojones, they appear to have been replaced by, well, ‘17′ and ‘I Want You’.

Step forward and explain yourselves, producers Jacquire King and Angelo Pietraglia. Both should know better having worked on previous albums. All we can really do is reassess the wisdom of disposing of Ethan Johns who seemed to mature with every Kings of Leon album he worked on.

There are other negatives to be taken from this hotly anticipated album. You find yourself craving the inventive song structures discovered with such delight on ‘Because of the Times‘. The age old ‘verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus-chorus’ formula, also attributed to the likes of Pete Waterman, is not what I signed up for! Let’s just not get into ‘Cold Desert’ which is a disappointing mudslide to end this journey.

The suspicion that there has been an unprecedented compromise made at some point over the last two years between band and label is a hard one to shake. It wouldn’t be the first time we have seen a huge marketing budget offered in exchange for corporate-rock cleansing of the soul. It is a pop-culture tragedy as this is what won over more than just fashionistas from 2003’s explosive ‘Youth and Young Manhoodonwards.

On the whole the album induces a nostalgic longing for the masterful back to back ‘Aha Shake…’(2004) and ‘Because of the Times‘ (2007). These are the releases that should be celebrated more with every polished rock album that hits the shelves of a Tesco superstore. The Kings need to dedicate every last piece of their Southern souls to stun the cynics with something much more legendary. That is, if they wish to live up to their name.

As I step off the train and breathe in the comparatively fresh London air, I slip ‘Because of the Times into my Discman, press play and before I know it I am home, safe and sound.

This is the first guest post on Cougar Microbes written by Kenny. Hopefully there will be more from him