California Waiting (2004)
Kings Of Leon
A combination of muscle-and-surf music, mid-’60s garageband Rock and an intravenous acid drip, “California Waiting” brings gifts to the contemporary Rock-N-Roll sound that look forward and back simultaneously. The references to Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson And Clover,” one of the more LSD-infused songs of the late-1960s, and to the ever-present woman of art and song, Mona Lisa, speak of the Leons’ reverence for the past.
Traces of Dick Dale, the “King of the Surf Guitar”; The Chantays’ “Pipeline” and “California Sun” by The Rivieras all figure in “California Waiting.” It also picks up on the Bakersfield (California) sound from Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and even as far back as Lefty Frizzell.
The real departure for “California Waiting” is its sleekness. The Kings Of Leon have a certain rumbly rootsiness to them sure, but on “California Waiting” they are polished to a lacquered sheen. Everything sounds perfect, from instrument tracks to crispy-clean vocal takes.
The lyrics are also a bit more abstract than the Southern Rock cliche might promise, being in the existential modernist school favored by so many Millennial writers.
I’m goin’ so fast that I can’t slow down
It’s hard to get up when
you’re spinnin’ round and round
I’d tell you the news but nothin’s changed
I’d sing you a song but they blew it away
All wrapped up in this stupid ass game
The words work on two levels. There is a quotidian angst about relationship but flying a little higher and faster is the concern with the kind of life that stardom has brought the Followill family (three brothers and a cousin). While we, the listeners, may very well consider fame and fortune high-class problems, it is remarkable how many hit-makers –regardless of the field – are snared on the thorns of their popularity.
Caleb Followill’s vocals sound honestly pained and his longing for something greener – California – is a timeless theme that resurrects the left coast as a magnet for dreamers and schemers. Where do you go when “every little thing’s gotta be just right”? Mythical California.
That tradition runs deep in the American psyche, interrupted occasionally by songs like the apocalyptic “Hotel California.”
The hits tumble from the cornucopia of American Rock: “California Girls,” “California Dreaming,” Blind Melon’s “California,” and Brian Wilson’s 2008 elegy, “Southern California.”
People have worn flowers in their hair, have worshipped the L.A. Woman and hope it never rains in California. It’s a solid tradition and The Kings of Leon do well by it.
“California Waiting” rocks unselfconsciously. The missing irony is one of the strongest bits about the song. All four band members play their hearts out. Caleb pushes and prods the number forward with his rhythm guitar part while (cousin) Matthew Followill on lead axe executes great licks. Not to be outdone, Jared Followill plays an uplifting bass and adds some engaging piano fills that give the rhythm a serious bottom along with Nathan Followill’s crafty drums, which are discreet, careful and precise.
The song buttons itself up with some fine Beatlesque harmonies and we are left to ponder the question we all face when things begin to change: “Can I get back my lonely life?”
The Kings Of Leon have been branded as southern rockers, as Alt, as Arena Rock artists; and indeed they are all those things. But on “California Waiting” they expanded and expanded, like four Alices in Through The Looking Glass. The whole album Youth And Young Manhood was, in retrospect, the signal light that the Leons were proceeding into a brave new stylistic world, diverse, rooted in the past but looking squarely into the unknown ahead.
“California Waiting” gives us strong reassurance that Rock-N-Roll will never die.
- The Kings Of Leon have been exceptionally popular in the United Kingdom. “California Waiting’s” album, Youth And Young Manhood, has sold a little over a million copies, half of those in the U.K.
- Writing in the (U.K.) Guardian, Betty Clarke said “the Kings of Leon are the kind of authentic, hairy rebels the Rolling Stones longed to be.”