The Killers, For Better or Worse- by Dustin Brewer

The release of the fourth album from the Killers, “Battle Born” marks a step in the right direction for the band after a few years out of the spotlight. Here, Dustin looks at the progression that led to the hiatus and his hopes for a complete return to form.

Photo from: stereogum.com

After a four year hiatus Las Vegas quartet The Killers are back with a new album, “Battle Born,” and a quest to reclaim their status as kings of the arena-rock scene.

It’s a little premature to say if the mission was accomplished or not, but unfortunately the album is a little too shaky to hand them the mantle back just yet.

When The Killers released their first album, “Hot Fuss” in 2004, they were able to appeal to the masses with songs like the lead single “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside.” They also showed an ability to dig a little deeper with songs like “All These Things I’ve Done” which traded in the bombast of the earlier singles to show a bit more depth than some of the other bands they were competing with for airtime.

It would’ve been very easy for the band to continue releasing album after album rehashing the structures off of “Hot Fuss” but in 2006, they decided to do the last thing anyone expected. “Sam’s Town” traded a lot of the synthesizer sounds in favor of a more guitar-driven, Springsteen-esque collection of songs ready to be sung as anthems in arenas across the world.

With the new sound and status as one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, frontman Brandon Flowers began making a series of brash comments that riled up fans and critics alike. In a short amount of time he managed to call out Green Day, Panic! At the Disco, Franz Ferdinand and then even declared that “Sam’s Town” would be one of the greatest albums of the century.

It’s unfortunate that his media antics distracted many from the album because as it stands currently, “Sam’s Town” is the most daring the band has ever been, stepping out of their comfort zone gave them something to prove- that they were more than just a flash-in-the-pan.

They put out an album in 2007 called “Sawdust” that featured songs recorded during the “Hot Fuss” sessions as well as B-sides from “Sam’s Town” and with it, the band largely stayed to their throwback Americana path.

They also unveiled a bit more of a fun side to the perception that they were all serious-minded heavies by releasing holiday singles every year with proceeds going to charity, including one of the greatest Christmas songs/videos of recent memory.

Which is why when a new album was announced in 2008, fans were ready to hear where the band were going to go next with their sound. If “Sam’s Town” was a step forward, “Day & Age” is largely a giant step back towards the sound they first hinted at with “Hot Fuss.” An unabashed tribute to the over-the-top cheesy 80’s sound was on full display in songs like “Joy Ride” that feature unnecessary extended saxophone parts. The album marked a change in Flowers’ lyrical direction as well, trading in the Americana anthems in an attempt to write more profound statements or comments on things but coming off as more pretentious than profound. Compounding the change in music, Flowers then made possibly the worst/best choice in Rock’N’Roll fashion history to wear for virtually everything they did to promote the album.

In 2010, the band surprised no one by announcing they would be taking an indefinite hiatus after countless years on tour had taken its toll on them.

When Flowers announced the release of a solo album a few months later though, fans began to suspect that maybe the band was finished. “Flamingo,” Flowers’ solo album, could’ve very easily been the fourth Killers record and was far more satisfying than “Day & Age” simply because Flowers seemed more relaxed and the songs more natural.

Every other member of the band also worked on music outside of The Killers, releasing solo albums or working with other bands, simply put, fans braced themselves for a Killers-free music world.

So in 2011 when the band reformed to play sporadic festivals and contributed a cover of “Go All the Way” for Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” film, fans tried to contain their enthusiasm at the possibility of a new album.

Which brings us to now, “Battle Born,” the fourth Killers album has been released to mixed reviews with the consensus being that it’s better than “Day & Age” but still generally a bit underwhelming save for a few strong tracks. The problem seems to be the same thing that hinders most bands these days- over production. So many artists find themselves in big studios with large crews helping them maximize the effects and instruments in every song, that they forget the foundations they started on. The Killers are four immensely talented men, Flowers is a strong songwriter with a penchant to go a little overdramatic but his voice is able to carry and deliver even the cheesiest line with an endearing earnestness.

That’s why it’s hard to completely dismiss them or say they’ll never be the biggest rock band in the world again. They haven’t stopped writing big, hook-heavy songs, they’ve just been distracted by the sound of the full arenas rather than the task of filling them.

Dustin Brewer is co-creator of HefferBrew. Even though he originally hated “Day & Age” with a fiery passion, over the years it’s began to grow on him so he’s holding out hope for “Battle Born” to do the same, sooner rather than later. 

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