Ah, the powers of hype. It can conjure praise and create a following that is otherwise unattainable for an unknown band. Or, as in the case of Kings of Leon on their debut EP Holy Roller Novocaine, it can deflate expectations and disappoint. Upon ripping off the plastic packaging, covered in stickers announcing the Kings of Leon’s status as "Rolling Stone‘s favorite new artist," I believed that this five song EP would prove that growing up the son of an evangelist down South didn’t mean an eternal affinity to choir crooners. But when only half of a 15-minute album delivers, I have to question if such hype is worthy or deserved.
The EP starts off promising; in "Molly’s Chambers," vocalist Caleb Followill has a growl and drawl charming enough to evoke images of a "Son of a Preacher Man." That, combined with the jittery guitar sound, brings to mind not worn-down cement sidewalks, but dusty roads and scorched earth. Caleb, with his two brothers, Nathan on drums and Jared on bass, and cousin Matthew on guitar, (It’s all in the family for Kings of Leon) creates a sound that is simultaneously retro and modern. "Wasted Time" continues this bad boy country sound, although it is not as strong as the preceding track and wears thin fairly quickly. "Holy Roller Novocaine," deservedly the title track, capitalizes upon the formula of bouncing guitar lines and grating vocals to play up King of Leon’s southern sound.
But what comes between these three tracks is the major disappointment. The biggest problem is the lack of depth. When Kings of Leon attempt to stray from their formula of snarling sounds, all that comes out is weak, unmemorable southern rock. "California Waiting," their attempt to inject West Coast cool into a down-South strum, is a banal track perfect for today’s radio standards. Lines such as "Stuck inside this stupid ass game," are so forced and, well, awful, that no amount of attitude can make up for it.
Perhaps this blandness explains the hype; Kings of Leon, with proper preening and production, could become a marketable band, ready for their MTV close-up. Or maybe Rolling Stone only listened to the first track before placing the album on a pedestal. Either way, Kings of Leon need to expand their repertoire without loosing their rugged charm in order to live up to the hype. In the meantime, don’t rely on Holy Roller Novocaine to be the Holy Grail.