Only By the Night

Only By the Night

Only by the Night marked the moment where it all blew up big for Kings of Leon. Everything about the Followill clan’s fourth album was supersized—its sales, its sound, its ambition—and in its wake, brothers Caleb, Jared, and Nathan and cousin Matthew became one of the biggest bands in the world. It had been coming. The Nashville quartet’s first two albums, 2003’s Youth and Young Manhood and 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, had them pegged as the “Southern Strokes” with their frenetic, honky-tonk garage rock. But they’d begun to retool their sound with 2007’s Because of the Times, moving away from the barbed rock ’n’ roll of their early work and introducing a more widescreen and epic template to draw from. On Only by the Night, they set out to perfect that expansive approach at the same time as honing their anthemic hooks. That seed that had been planted during support tours with U2 (in 2005) and Pearl Jam (2006): The band had plenty of songs in their arsenal that could pinball around sweatbox venues but, standing onstage inside huge arenas every night, they realized they needed to start writing songs that were big and powerful enough to have the punters in Row Z up on their feet. The sense of horizons being stretched runs right through Only by the Night, from sprawling, loose-limbed opener “Closer” to the thunderous, rolling drama of “Be Somebody,” from the bruised Americana of “Revelry” to the breezy, soulful groove of “I Want You.” And as for the sing-alongs to hit Row Z? They were right next to each other as tracks three and four, a pair of songs that would become Kings of Leon classics. Propulsive rocker “Sex On Fire” tapped into the heady rush that made their breakthrough songs so exciting—but now the urgency was paired with an indelible, irresistible chorus that could be hollered back at them. The album’s first single, it was everywhere, blaring out of passing cars, on the radio, playing in shopping malls, on Victoria’s Secret runways, in the air. “Use Somebody,” meanwhile, was a different sort of Kings of Leon, a lighter-waving anthem that sounded slick and grown-up but vulnerable at the same time, an intimate ballad that could also connect with the masses. This was festival headliner material. Upon release, Only by the Night was a massive global hit, reaching multi-platinum sales in multiple countries, while “Use Somebody” and “Sex On Fire” won four Grammys between them. There would be a bumpy road ahead as success pushed the band to the brink. In July 2011, Caleb walked off stage midway through a show in Dallas while touring fifth album Come Around Sundown, and the often-fractious Followills called a hiatus on their intense, decade-long schedule of playing and recording (on Twitter, Jared pointed to “internal sicknesses & problems that have needed to be addressed”). They’d return revitalized with sixth album Mechanical Bull in September 2013 but Only by the Night remains the sound of the band hitting the peak of their powers.

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