AHA SHAKE Heartbreak is probably the best Kings of Leon album. Fans of their mainstream output will of course love Only By The Night or Come Around Sundown. Fans of Later… with Jools Holland will probably prefer Youth and Young Manhood. But in a transitional period from being unknowns to being one of the biggest bands at the time, Aha Shake Heartbreak combines that naivety that comes with being a newer band on the block with some killer tunes that lack the radio friendly riffs.
With a trademark southern drawl of Caleb Followell over the Rolling Stones meets Tom Waits and The Strokes vibe, charm is dribbled over this album like Jack Daniels from a glass bottle. Despite the religious upbringing, the brothers (and cousin) produce some pumping ‘boogie-rock’ with dirty, filthy lyrical undertones. Songs like ‘Taper Jean Girl’ which lead in with a pounding drum beat before infectious bass and guitar riffs are introduced. ‘Aha! Shaaahaaake! Taper jean girl with a motel face!’ Followell croons over the top. When the bridge comes in, the crunchy bass line builds up to a solo reminiscent of the Strokes, and even similar to material the Arctic Monkeys would be producing a couple of years later.
One of the songs on this album with a more familiar tone is ‘The Bucket’. Reportedly written about bassist Jared Followill (only 17 at the time of the album’s release), and about handling fame. The garage-rock opening chords and the standard song structure works well with some of Caleb Followell’s most melodic vocals on the album. It’s no surprise this song was selected as the album’s lead single. ‘King of the Rodeo’ also echoes this garage-rock vibe, with fast paced, layered vocals in the chorus making it one of the catchier songs on the album, complete with handclaps.
But it isn’t just all happy-go-lucky rock songs on this album. Kings of Leon revisit their roots on the aptly named ‘Day Old Blues’. The vocals are strained, the lyrics speak of sadder times, and the instruments are muted (to begin with). While keeping a similar musical formula to the rest of the album, it does add a slight element of diversity to Aha Shake Heartbreak. ‘Milk’ is another slower, more graceful track. The use of synthesisers and acoustic guitar leaves Caleb Followill’s gruff, isolated vocals singing from the heart. A small bass and drum beat builds the song up, but ultimately keeps it heartfelt, keeps it slow and makes a pleasant divide for the album.
But what ultimately makes Aha Shake Heartbreak so good is the sheer simplicity of it. Unlike their later albums, Kings of Leon largely shied away from gimmicks and additions that would help produce more commercially successful albums. While it helps that this album was released at a time where the garage rock revival was still in full swing, in retrospect, Aha Shake Heartbreak is still an enjoyable album. Doused in Southern charm and swagger, it represents Kings of Leon at their very strongest.
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