The Killers ‘Battle Born’ – Review

24 Sep

‘Aint we all just runaways?’  goes the hook to the Killers new single. Maybe, but what exactly does it mean to ‘run away’ from something or someone? Surely if you’re running from something, you’ve got to be running towards something else, otherwise we’d all just be a bunch of headless chickens running aimlessly with no purpose. This is a topic that preoccupies Brandon Flowers on The Killers Fourth album, ‘Battle Born’. Who’s running away? Who from? Who to? Where too? At one point Brandon’s a ‘dark horse running in a fantasy’, elsewhere he says ‘That place we all run to, it can come down on you’. Throughout the album there’s a lot of talk about fast cars travelling down the wrong roads, driving through the desert, escaping problems – so much movement in fact the record threatens to leave you a bit dizzy. It’s not unusual, The Killers have been a band on the run for many years now; running between popularity and infamy whilst  running between genres as if they’ve never been quite sure who or what they want to be. Are they a pop band, an indie band or a rock band?

‘Battle Born’ tries to make the case for them being a rock band, but, if I were a judge, my verdict would be not guilty. Sure everything is as it should be – the guitar solos are in the right places, the power chords are spot on and the lyrics match the music perfectly – but the group don’t wear the leather jackets as well as they wore the feather ones. The Killers have always been ridiculous and here they take themselves far too seriously. It just doesn’t wash – at least, not all the time.

It’s starts off very well indeed. ‘Runaways’ is one of the most feel good, inspirational songs I’ve heard all year and it will sit pretty on the greatest hits that must surely be somewhere around the corner. On this song Brandon perfects the lyrical mode where he aims to write like Bruce Springstein and gets somewhere nearer a 21st century Jim Steinman. No bad thing! He finally, definitively, achieves what he aimed for on ‘Dustland Fairytale’ and much of ‘Sam’s Town.’ Elsewhere ‘Flesh and Bone’ is a strikingly dramatic opener and ‘Battle Born’ is an equally fitting closer. In the middle we have the enjoyable ‘From Here On Out’, (just about the only song that attempts to raise your heart beat, even just slightly) and the Sams Town revisited number ‘A Matter of Time’.

‘The Way It Was’ and ‘Here With Me’ and two supremely realised power ballads that could almost qualify as the X Factor winner’s single were they not this good. If you don’t like a good helping of cheese and corn then these songs won’t be for you, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this type of melodramatic, emotive pop and to be honest nobody else is really attempting it in this David Guetta, big beat obsessed world.

This early run of hits doesn’t last forever; by track five the act is wearing a bit thin but by the album’s end your almost sick to death of the constant stream of mid tempo power ballads. ‘The Rising Tide’ would be forgettable at the best of times, but following hot on the heels of some far better variations on the same idea, it sounds completely redundant. The same goes for the disappointing prequel to ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ (get ready to cringe when you hear a references to ‘the boy with eager eyes’ and a homage to that famous riff). ‘Deadlines and Commitments’ is vaguely political as oppose to vaguely nostalgic, but in every other sense it’s another  boring take on Bruce Springstein.  ‘Heart of a Girl’ and ‘Be Still’ aim to break up the monotony of ballads by offering something even slower, but also more subtle and restrained, and actually these songs kind of work. They aren’t classics but at least they’re slightly different.

I feel pretty sorry for the band because merciless critics who were already uncdecided are going to have a field day undressing some of these songs. There’s no getting away from the fact that as well constructed as the lyrics and music are, the band are banging out the same old clichés we’ve heard a billion times before. We’ve heard these power chords a hundred times in a hundred more interesting ways, the lyrics are so obvious at times that you simply have to wonder what Brandon was thinking. ‘A blue eyed girl’ with ‘blonde hair blowing in the wind’? Couldn’t they have thrown in a slightly original adjective to spice it up?

But to close read the lyrics is to miss the point entirely. The Killers have always been about the feelings they so ably stir up in the listener, and some of these songs stir up some mighty big emotions. Performed live I can imagine they take on a whole new power and meaning because first and foremost The Killers are a stunning live band, and there are some fine additions to the setlist on ‘Battle Born’. Taken as a whole though the record is too stodgy and middle of the road to be a truly worthy follow up to the still delightful ‘Day and Age’. For a band that have always been unafraid to experiment and mix things up, ‘Battle Born’ (despite showing signs of growing maturity and sophistication) is a surprisingly safe release.I don’t know where The Killers will run to next but I’m hoping they remember to pack the synth, the make up and the feather jackets next time.

7/10

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