Let me make one thing clear right off the bat: I think Kings of Leon’s new song “Radioactive” is awesome.
It’s melodramatic, it shows off Caleb Followill’s vocal range and rocker dynamic, it hints at a broader approach to production on the new, forthcoming album. I think the spiritual lyrics are as memorable as the chorus -- and the song itself is just like one long chorus -- which guarantees both will stick into your head until at least Christmas. (I first heard the track when the band introduced it at Bonnaroo in June, and I could still tell you what it sounded like even before this started streaming.) The tempo is stadium-worthy and the gospel choir is idiosyncratic without being annoying. It's no "Sex on Fire," but it's not supposed to be: it's a standalone, feel-good song for the fall.
That being said, I wish it had a different music video.
“Radioactive” was posted today on the band’s website and Vevo, in advance of “Come Around Sundown,” due Oct. 19.
The action takes place at a picnic, in a park with fields and barns and picket fences. Delicious food abounds, a soccer ball bounces around, children are amused by a visiting magician. It’s a grade-A celebration.
Indeed, Kings of Leon are from a small- to middle-sized Southern town in Tennessee and they very well could have stumbled upon this picturesque diorama of Little America one day and considered it representative of where they “came from.” Perhaps the video crew asked that all the town’s children wear their school uniforms for the shoot and to leave their video games at home (the presence of pie was requested, but not required). Maybe what was supposed to be a day-long video shoot turned into lifelong friendships and Lessons Learned, Amen.
What catches my eye is: this is a town of (almost) all African-Americans. And then there’s these beardy white rocker dudes. I half expect a footnote or an introduction to the clip, to give some clarity to context: otherwise, it seems, at best, a well-intended but incomplete statement on racial unity and heritage or, at (very) worst, exploitative.
Perhaps the band is there to crash the party, bearing the gift of rock. And, the town responds by offering the endowment of gospel. Does that, then, make it KoL’s homage to Southern black culture or a metaphor for gospel’s influence on popular music (in a barn)?
Did the band adopt a town? Did the town adopt Kings of Leon? Did the group donate money to a summer camp or have a studio there or something? Is it a trip down memory lane, during which the Family Followill reimagines their youth with their race flipped? Is this what heaven looks like?
I don't know what I'm looking at, but on the other hand, I know what I see: circa 2:33, a band member mugs on his knees in a field, arms open for embrace by two little girls. Caleb lip-syncs as he’s flocked by a skipping group of youths, like so many bounding, folksy accessories. It's like a full-body eye-roll.
Somewhere in the universe, at some point in time, some production coordinator thought, “Authenticity achieved! We are clear for takeoff!” Then the director called “cut” and everyone had some cola.
Anyway, the song sans imagery will be available as a free download to folks who pre-order the album starting Sept. 14.
What do you think of “Radioactive” – the song and the video?