Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Sex on Fire" / Kings of Leon

All those years of training my children to like rock music, and what do I get? I'm now forced to listen to Sirius Radio's Alt Nation channel every time we take a car trip. Of course, some of Alt Nation's artists are fabulous, but I also have to endure such tripe as that screamer in Rise Against, or the endless narcotizing techno riffs of LCD Soundsystem, or worst of all, the Ting Tings, a horrible British duo that's basically the B-52s without a sense of humor (and the whole point of the B-52s was their sense of humor). Not only that, but listen to Alt Nation long enough and you will hear the exact same 37 songs played over and over in exactly the same order.

Do I sound enough like my parents yet?

But at least that means that every 37 songs I got to hear the Kings of Leon again. This is a completely addictive track, and excellent driving music, too; you absolutely have to pound the steering wheel when it comes on. The title is stupid, I'll agree, like something Justin Timberlake would write, and it's extra embarrassing to listen with your adolescent daughter to what's basically a song about a blow job. But so far she hasn't caught on, so we're safe. For a while, still.

Let's get one thing out of the way: The opening riffs of "Sex on Fire" are stolen straight from Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark." Still, that seems to be standard operating procedure on Alt Nation; Fall Out Boy's latest single is a complete rip-off of "Spirit in the Sky," and since two out of the three Alt Nation listeners in my car had never heard "Spirit in the Sky," my guess is that Fall Out Boy will get away with it. Anyhow, the opening riff is the only really good thing about "Dancing in the Dark," so let's just call the Kings of Leon's version an "homage" and move on.

They get extra points from me for being another brother band -- in fact, they beat out the Davies brothers, because there are not two but three Followill brothers in the band, as well as their cousin. It makes more sense to compare them to the Allman Brothers, or the Black Crowes' Robinson brothers, or Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars, because these guys are classic Southern rockers. That borrowed riff becomes a propulsive motor for this song, cruising lustily around the curves without braking for a moment. But while the crisp drums and hopped-up bass and chugging guitar never let up, Caleb Followill's hoarse high vocals howl and soar and swoop all over the place, adding a great jittery nervous energy.

The lyrics are ambiguous, of course, and vaguely poetic, as in "Hot as a fever / Rattling bones" or "The dark of the alley / The break of the day / Ahead while I'm driving / I'm driving." (Or is it "a head while I'm driving"?).

There's one little rhythmic trick they pull off that's sheer genius. At the end of every verse, they repeat the last phrase of the last line -- as in "feels like you're dying, you're dying" -- standard pop technique, right? But nooooo, they make you wait for it, stuffing in an extra measure while the song's motor keeps pulsating, and even when you get the repeat it still idles anxiously on a minor chord. What did you expect, resolution? No way; they just downshift gears and accelerate into the next verse. The spasmodic tension this creates is just brilliant. Like I said, it's a song about a blow job (not only that, but a blow job in a moving car) so it's a perfect case of art imitating nature.

Well, the road trip's over, and I'm happy to go back to my own little quirky playlist of cute aging British rockers. But I've "borrowed" my son's Only By the Night CD and downloaded a few of the Followill boys' tracks -- after all, you never know when you'll need a little steamy Southern alt smut.

Sex on Fire sample


Carabella said...

I love the Kings. My daughter turned me onto them a few years back. Haven't heard much recent stuff. Just the "Holy Roller Novicane" bit. You have great wide open all over the place ears and head, Holly. Keep it so.

Mark said...

Hey, I was just listening to Dancing in the Dark the other day! Yes, the riff is the best part.