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Sam’s Town suggests that the newly face-fuzzed Brandon Flowers has contracted a serious dose of Bruce-llosis (a quick scan of the album’s titles yields a number of Boss buzzwords: “river”, “town”, “Jonny”, “wild”). No bad thing necessarily, but any rock band without the E-Streeters’ skill or Springsteen’s Steinbeckian grasp of American history should beware of straying across the wrong side of the New Jersey tracks and ending up in Bon Jovi-ville.
Peter Murphy, 16 Oct 2006
To recap: The Killers’ debut album Hot Fuss was a shiny pop-rock nugget with enough synthy sonic anomalies to lend it an addictive retro-modernist charm. It had substance too, rejoicing in a no-nonsense every-song-a-single strategy. And I don’t know about you dear reader, but the first time I heard ‘Glamorous Indie Rock ‘N’ Roll’ I fell around the floor laughing at the sheer Freddie Mercury-ness of it all. Add in a fresh-faced pretty boy singer, cookie cutter guitars, the bright lights of a Vegas back story… The Killers seemed knowing yet never distanced. Framing the stadium chorus of ‘Mr Brightside’ was a twisted lyric in which a cuckold torments himself with images of his lover embroiled in a forbidden tryst.
But now it’s two years later and, as Ed Power indicated in last issue’s Hot Press cover story, Sam’s Town suggests that the newly face-fuzzed Brandon Flowers has contracted a serious dose of Bruce-llosis (a quick scan of the album’s titles yields a number of Boss buzzwords: “river”, “town”, “Jonny”, “wild”). No bad thing necessarily, but any rock band without the E-Streeters’ skill or Springsteen’s Steinbeckian grasp of American history should beware of straying across the wrong side of the New Jersey tracks and ending up in Bon Jovi-ville.
The Killers, by dint of sheer fearlessness and audacity, pull it off.
Sam’s Town does not fuck around. The title tune bursts into life with a fanfare of martial drums, trumpeting keyboards and a lyric writ not so much in bold type as billboard-hoarding star spangled neon (“I still remember Grandma Dixie’s wake/I’d never really known anybody to die before/Red white and blue on a birthday cake/My brother he was born on the fourth of July”), as if the early 80s British invasion had been crossed with heartlands arena rock.
The single ‘When You Were Young’ is driving radio AOR, with an Edge-y solo and Petty-esque thumbnail portrait of a pretty girl in a muscle car with the top down (“You sit there in your heartache/Waiting on some beautiful boy/To save you from your own ways”). It’s pretty damn undeniable. Further in, both ‘Bling (Confession Of A King)’, a galloping big screen desert song, and the overwrought ‘The River Is Wild’ sound bizarrely like an early Waterboys, before Mike Scott abandoned harrowed doubt for romantic technicolour.
Behind all the bloodrush melodies though, this is an older and more road-wearied band. The Cars-throb of ‘For Reasons Unknown’ finds Flowers frozen in a stolen motel moment (“I pack my case and check my face/I look a little bit older/I look a little bit colder… My heart don’t beat the way it used to”) while ‘Uncle Jonny’ is coked up dirty black funk embellished with a gauche backing vocal refrain.
And yet, sometimes they do loveliness for its own sake: ‘Read My Mind’ is a deft and perfectly complected pop song, ‘Bones’ is upbeat, brassy and quite bizarre, like Soft Parade era Morrison suckled on 80s MTV and John Hughes films instead of French symbolism, while ‘My List’ and ‘Why Do I Keep Counting’ are glitzy white soul numbers dressed in big haired power ballad threads. Strangest of all is the closing ‘Exitlude’, the kind of Queen-go-Quadrophenia rock opera routine only Maria McKee can pull off these days.
A couple more albums down the line and The Killers might find themselves cruising the tinted-windowed lunar turnpikes of their very own Darkness On The Edge Of Vegas. They haven’t yet developed the literate, cinematic and thematic sensibilities that make a Bruce or a U2, but one suspects it’s only a matter of time. Sam’s Town consistently grandstands to the bleachers, makes cheap plays for the listener’s emotions and foolhardily flaunts with the conventions of good taste. Just like a great rock ‘n’ roll record should.