Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Island
The fourth Killers record might be their wildest neon-Springsteen fever dream yet. "This natural selection picked me out to be a dark horse running in a fantasy league," Brandon Flowers sings over Eighties soundtrack-rock synth effluvia on "Flesh and Bone," nailing his signature mix of sincerity and Vegas Strip lounge lizardry. A-list producers like Daniel Lanois and Brendan O'Brien help the Killers go after the cheeseball chalice, especially on the doomed romantics' epic "Runaways" and "The Way It Was," which packs Meat Loaf into a red Corvette and drives him out to "the lonely Esmeralda County line," where "paradise is buried in the dust." So is all good taste and discernment, and that's the charm.
Ever since The Killers arrived on the scene with Hot Fuss back in 2004, they’ve struggled to reclaim the popularity and acclaim that album received. Their latest effort, Battle Born, doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it comes close. Battle Born is the sound of The Killers embracing who they are. Unlike the reactionary Day & Age, this record fully embraces the group’s Springsteen and U2 worshipping ways.
The great open secret about the Killers is that they only make sense when they operate on a grand scale. Everything they do is outsized; their anthems are created for fathomless stadiums, a character quirk they've grown into over the years as they've gone from scrappy wannabes fighting their way out of Las Vegas to the international superstars they've longed to be. Nearly ten years after Hot Fuss -- a decade that flashed by like a falling rocket -- the Killers aren't quite the new U2 or the Cure, to name two of their inescapable role models, but they're not Echo & the Bunnymen, either, doomed to be playing for an ever-selective audience.
It’s appropriate that the Killers have released their fourth album, and first following an 18-month hiatus, during an Olympic year. Just about every character in frontman Brandon Flowers’ mythological America comes from the kinds of dusty small towns that produce amateur boxers and steely teenage gymnasts — underdogs dreaming of escape and impossible heights. Plus, the Killers themselves have always gone for the gold, boldly aiming to fill exotic stadiums with full-throated anthems about big ideas.
Don’t underestimate The Killers, a multi-platinum American band who functions as a synthesizer like LCD Soundsystem or DJ Shadow. Forget their mildly dance-punk origins and they’re an antenna to the uncool, a short wave radio station that only plays “heartland rock” (as Wikipedia says) and synthy schlock worthier of John Hughes than M83. They evoke countless unnamable nobodies that soundtracked terrible TV in the ‘80s, but—unlike chillwave—right-side-up and crystal clear.
“Let’s go out tonight/There’s a mystery underneath the neon light/Before life and the dream collide/’Cos the truth’s gonna come and cut me open wide” – ‘Rising Tide’Economies collapse. Relationships crumble. Families decay. Girls go wild, boys go soft, fathers go out in the dead of night and never come back.
For the better part of the past decade, The Killers have been a staple on both rock and Top-40 radio. Their catchy hooks and melodic synth pop has built the Las Vegas-based outfit a sizeable following, with some ambitiously comparing them to U2. After four years, the band’s latest album, Battle Born, picks up with the familiar sound that fans are accustomed to.
The Killers have ditched the disco and returned to widescreen, wind-machine Americana, but with salvos as breast-beating as "What are you afraid of/ And what are you made of?" and excesses as egregious as the half-spoken echoes of Battle Born, the cheese is amped so far that what this really sounds like is the soundtrack to some lost 90s Disney film. In fact, frontman Brandon Flowers has admitted to mining Elton Lion King John, or rather his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, for tips on creating "epic" tracks. The lumbering, laboured emoting of the ballad Here with Me confirms that the harder they strain for grandiloquence, the more ridiculous the Killers sound.
Knowing that he’s one of fellow Mormon Mitt Romney’s best hopes to court younger voters, the Killers’ Brandon Flowers recently announced he’s sitting this election cycle out, refusing to say whether or not he’s on #TeamForward, even though he’s performed for Barack Obama in the past. If Flowers and his band are hedging their bets, their reticence goes hand in hand with the paradoxically stadium-ready melancholy of Battle Born, their first album in four years. Gone are virtually all traces of the mash-up-friendly electro-disco of 2008’s Day & Age, the playful tinges of melodrama, and every potential shred of evidence that the hints of megalomania were all so much gamesmanship.
Some of rock's most interesting brains vacillate between the great and the prosaic. Brandon Flowers' 2010 solo album, Flamingo, revealed his current interest in classic Americana – air-punching, minor-key tunes and colourful refractions of a Vegas life, all neon lights and "girls on the corner", which Flowers, a Utah Mormon, may or may not have lived. It's a world away from the gruff, anglophile indie of Mr Brightside or the poetic pomposity of Human, which, love it or hate it, will be remembered for 100 years.
Each chapter of the Killers’ career has been about finding a new way to sound gigantic. First they did so via ‘80s style new wave on Hot Fuss, followed by a not-so-subtle E Street Band homage on Sam’s Town, and eventually a sparkling dance-pop makeover on Day & Age. Yet while each phase found the band in a slightly different mode of expression, the end result was a variation on the same theme: grandiosity.
When you consider The Killers wrote ‘Mr Brightside’ in their first band practice, it’s tragic to see how far they have fallen with Battle Born. The album you always felt Brandon Flowers and co had in them but hoped they’d never make, it completes a sad decline from having arena rock sewn up on Hot Fuss to succumbing to its easy excesses. This is a collection of massive-sounding, impeccably-produced songs which mask their dearth of ideas with hackneyed bluster.
The Killers will probably go down as one of the biggest guilty pleasure bands of all time. The reasons for this are numerous. When you get right down to it, the band has very much found their niche as ‘80s rock revivalists, reappropriating the era’s neon synths and Springsteen’s flag-waving swagger for a modern day audience, which basically means that their sound can be either exciting or predictable depending on who’s listening.
There is something deeply, embarrasingly satisfying about The Killers’ slick shlock pomp-rock. Even when what they’re singing about makes little to no sense. I still need several primers on what “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” actually means and Southland Tales did not help me out at all. The best of the widescreen melodrama in which they traffick — a perfect analogy for the band’s Las Vegas stomping grounds — taps into a place that is part guilty pleasure and part first-pumping amygdala response.
The Killers have always made one thing obvious with their music: Las Vegas pride. If the band’s glitzy sound and flashy style wasn’t enough, their new album is called Battle Born after the Nevada state motto. Staying true to their town’s way, the band has taken a gamble with their newest record, trading the disco-laced sound of Day And Age for neon-tinted pop and a pinch of Americana.
A belter of an album made for bedrooms and stadiums alike. Tom Hocknell 2012 Since 2004’s British-flavoured debut Hot Fuss, The Killers have embraced the American landscape with an authenticity UK bands can only dream about. With nothing but horizons in every direction, their immersion in Vegas is now complete: like Springsteen is New Jersey, The Killers are inseparable from Nevada.