I bought this album in 2004 when it came out, as I was a huge fan of their first record Youth & Young Manhood . I can’t recall where I bought it but it probably would have been HMV or Fopp in Cambridge, the nearest city to where I grew up (the local record shop in my hometown closed down not long before this – a sign of the times right?). I wouldn’t have had an iPod yet, so the CD would have been played mainly on my Discman while I was delivering newspapers or walking to and from school. And of course on the CD player in the study my schoolmates and I shared.
Kings Of Leon had recently been my first gig experience – my older brother took me to Brixton Academy to see them in December 2003. We were on the guestlist, which was devastating for me as I wanted a paper ticket stub to stick to my homework diary. I must have looked very upset about this as the woman at the box office gave me a ticket from the previous night’s gig – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. This was no consolation to me but I smiled politely and took it anyway.
‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ was initially a bit disappointing for me. I loved ‘Youth & Young Manhood’ so much that in a way nothing could have lived up to it at that moment. But there were enough songs I liked on it to keep me listening, plus I would have invested £10 or £15 in the CD, so giving up after one listen was not an option – youth of today, take note…
I went to see Kings Of Leon twice more on this album tour – in Cambridge and Norwich – and they were the best concerts I’d ever been to (by this time I was regularly going to all the indie gigs I could afford – Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, you get the picture). I think it was these live experiences that made me fall more and more for the album.
“It’s hard to pick a favourite song from the album – and many of the things they were singing about meant nothing to me (what did being “stuck in velvet snow” mean? To this day, no one will tell me). But now I think I get the biggest chills listening to ‘King of the Rodeo’. Somehow the line “take off your overcoat, you’re staying for the weekend” seems like an invitation to re-immerse myself in the album and my memories of it every time I hear it.”
It’s easy to forget that Kings of Leon were not always the enormous band they are today. It was only with their fourth album Only By The Night (Sex On Fire, Use Somebody, etc.) that they started conquering stadiums across the world. I was at university by the time this came out and of course felt betrayed by what seemed to me like their cynical embrace of big dumb choruses and reverb-heavy drums. I wrote a scathing review for my student newspaper.
However, time has mellowed my feelings on this album, and I love some of the Followill family’s latest releases, even if they do sound like music for a dad driving a premium family car. Find Me was my favourite song of 2016. Hey, I’m a father of one with a BMW SUV and I’m not ashamed of it. But I wonder how many of Kings of Leon’s latter day fans have gone back to discover the band’s origins in albums like Aha Shake Heartbreak. Four Kicks may well be a cruder and less well-written song than something like Waste A Moment, but this was music written by and for people in their early twenties and I think that energy is palpable throughout this album. It’s also worth noting that Aha Shake Heartbreak was recorded live in one take. And that is a testament to the musicianship of those four young men so early in their career.
I’ve had some of the best times of my life listening to this album, from those early teenage times to being in a basement party in Brooklyn singing along to every track on a microphone in 2013. When we signed with Canvasback/Atlantic in 2012 one of the highlights of the day was getting my hands on a US copy of the Aha Shake Heartbreak (different artwork!). Our new label boss Steve Ralbowsky had signed Kings of Leon ten years previously.
Now it mainly gets played in our car, my wife and I still knowing all the words to every song. Our son is too young to be embarrassed yet, but give it time. Incidentally, when I first went to meet my wife’s family (I was her new boyfriend then) her childhood bedroom bore barely a trace of her teenage identity, save for a small picture of Jared Followill still stuck to the wardrobe. She claimed she’d tried to remove it but it was glued on too well – but I knew better. I think it may have been this that confirmed my desire to “put a ring on it”. Thanks, Kings of Leon. Despite the fact it was probably a week’s paper round wages at the time, I think that £15 album may have been the biggest bargain of my life.
Alt-J‘s aniticipated new album The Dream is set to arrive on February 11 via Infectious Music/BMG. Until that happens, why not giving Gus’ favourite a spin and travel back to 2004 right here?