Talihina Sky Review

Kings of Hee-Haw.

Admittedly, this name doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the one those grandsons of Leon plumped for. But, having watched Talihina Sky, boy it certainly does seem more apt.

This documentary charts the Followill boy’s inexorable rise from the backwaters of Tennessee to the packed out stadiums they’ve gone on to play all around the globe, and is also executive produced by brother’s Nathan, Caleb, Jared and cousin Matthew.

Which isn’t that surprising, considering the multi media credits successful music stars are afforded today. What is surprising is just how honest and vulnerable they’ve allowed themselves to be portrayed.

Talihina Sky starts with the origins of Kings of Leon, when these four good ol’ boys from the south were little more than haircuts and facial topiary. With more authenticity and swagger than any comparative manufactured band du jour, the Followill boys self realised Tennessee sound was a shot in the arm for indie music mid way through the noughties.

That they also looked like an A & R man’s wet dream, and most any teenage girl or boys for that matter, sealed the deal and Kings of Leon’s meteoric rise to the summit of pop charts throughout the world.

What Talihina Sky lays bare, through documenting the four boys’ upbringing that seems equal parts idyllic and idiotic, is just how painfully real these guys are.

There are no heirs and graces with Followill clan, no pretentions to be someone or something they’re not. This is especially true of Caleb, a twenty something man-child who comes across as a self indulgent prima donna who’s never been told “no” in his short life.

Perhaps like so many frontmen before him, he thinks he’s the messiah. In truth, he’s just a very naughty boy.

In spite of his child like ways, Caleb is a very different animal in the studio and probably the most ambitious member of Kings; pushing his kin to make their sound everything it can be.

The metronomic yin to Caleb’s raging yang is his older brother Nathan, the most collected and intelligent member of the band. Nathan takes on a surrogate father figure role for the rest of Followill boys when they’re on tour, and is the only one who’ll call Caleb on his oft ridiculous behaviour.

Just as importantly, Caleb actually listens when Nathan’s telling him some home truths. I guess there’s something to be said for sibling seniority.

As befits a harmonious band dynamic, the other members of Kings are a less interesting couple. Jared is the little boy with huge glasses, who one day grew into his contacts and bass guitar.

The more amazing revelation of Talihina Sky is that Jared got the gig as the band’s bass player over the phone, before he’d even picked up the damn instrument.

So it really is who, not what you know folks.

Finally we have lead guitarist Matthew, who gets noticeably bigger as the documentary progresses. By the end, he’s in desperate need of a personal trainer and a crash course in what not to eat on the road.

Of course, the final image of Matthew is as a lithe, handsome teenager; when Kings were still in their infancy.

In a way, his expanding waistline and this revisionist history is a perfect metaphor for both the music and people of Kings of Leon.

What’s easy to forget, but Talihina Sky rams home, is that these four boys were just that when they blew up on the music scene.

With their just swaggered out of a rock ‘n roll dictionary look and authentic Tennessee sound, Kings of Leon deservedly took the music world by storm with their first two albums.

Yet, growing up around huge success seems to have retarded their own evolution as musicians and even people. Just like Matthew, their music is now bloated from all the success they’ve enjoyed. And even worse, their fantastic hair is fast receding.

The sad thing is they don’t seem to realise this. Well, I think Caleb knows the jig is up with his hairline. But the delusions Kings have about the music they make today left me feeling like some slack jawed yokel from their family.

The Followill boys were never the most technically impressive of musicians, evidenced by Jared’s inclusion in the group. What they did have was a genuine sound unlike anything else around at the time.

But just as their early music reflected the boys’ lives up to that point, Kings of Leon’s new sound exhibited on their last three albums is a reflection of their new life of excess and yes men.

Talihina Sky makes it crystal clear that these guys simply aren’t able to evolve musically into anything other than what they’re told to be by their record label flunkey’s and studio exec’s.

Hence the chugging, homogenised, staid-ium arena rawk Kings of Leon now churn out.

Of course, with their family roots, it’s a minor miracle they can even walk upright.

As Talihina Sky frequently demonstrates, some of the Followill relatives are incapable of coherent speech. And the ones who are able to articulate their thoughts usually embarrass themselves with deeply unevolved religious rhetoric.

Which makes Kings Of Leon’s emancipation from their frankly ludicrous strict Pentecostal upbringing all the more remarkable.

Naturally, the boys’ notable absence from speaking about religion is most likely a reflection on the faith they have in themselves. The only people in the film who speak so zealously of their faith are those who have none in themselves.

Which is a pretty accurate description of the vast swathes of religious folk who inhabit God’s green earth.

Mind you, it’s a lot easier to believe in yourself when you’ve sold millions of records around the world.

If Kings continue to betray their musical roots, ascending to the right hand side of musical gods in the process, that’ll be no laughing matter.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

June 2011