The Killers ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’- Review

7 Dec

A curious glance at the charts this week informed me that ‘Mr Brightside’ was back in the top 100 – or more likely it never left. That song’s enduring and ever growing brilliance rather blindsided listeners of The Killers recent ‘Direct Hits’ singles compilation. ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘When You Were Young’ and ‘Human’ are classic singles in their own right but I wonder how many people made it past track one when track one was the most replayable karaoke masterpiece of the past twenty years? ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’ doesn’t have that hurdle to overcome and as such can actually serve as an insightful secret history of the band. It’s eleven festive songs, one released each December since 2006, trace the band’s evolution from flamboyant new-wavers to indie Springsteins to bombastic hard-rockers whilst flaunting their stranger impulses at the same time.

The Killers Christmas songs, released to raise awareness and money for Elton John’s aids foundation, often sound half formed, half-genius, half baked or half asleep. They present the band at their silliest and least attentive and therefore at their most endearing. The opening trio of songs also happened to come at a time when The Killers were arguably the biggest band in the country. Hot on the heels of the majestic ‘Sam’s Town’ and proceeding ‘Day and Age’, these songs are from that brief period when the band were full of ambition and verve. They had the desire to be as big as U2 and as cool as joy Division. As a snapshot of that period the songs work excellently; they are catchy, funny, sky scraping and ridiculously pompous. Guests abound on these tracks; Elton John and Neil Tennant turn up on ‘Joseph, Better You Than Me’, a song that spins Shmultz out of the nativity story over a euphoric chord progression. The song, and Tennant’s overwrought performance in particular, reminds me of nothing so much as ‘We’re Sending Our Love Down a Well’, the spot-on Band Aid parody from The Simpsons. But this was a time when The Killers could execute such things with melodic ingenuity and well intentioned enthusiasm.

After that release the band disappeared in to themselves somewhat. Over the next seven years they released just one album, and the ensuing Christmas singles conveyed an alternatively disregarding and devil may care attitude to songwriting and production that found them fluctuating between the kind of stuff they could knock out in their sleep and genre curiosities like the mariachi rooted ‘Happy Birthday Guadalupe’ and the country ‘Cowboy’s Christmas Ball’. These two songs still impress partly because of how strange they are. Elsewhere though, the more they stuck to tried and tested techniques, the less successful they were. ‘Boots’ is a yawning take on ‘Hot Fuss’ synth pop and ‘I Feel It In My Bones’ is a boring hard rock sibling of ‘Battle Born’. We cared less about them during this period and they seemingly cared less about making their Christmas songs matter.

In a bizarre twist the album ends with a daft trilogy of novelty tunes that, if the predictive trend continues, suggests that the band have a future as a comedy act. And a bad one at that. ‘Joel the Lump of Coal’ was written and recorded in an afternoon with TV host Jimmy Kimmel and its as forgettable as that description makes it sound. ‘Dirt Sledding’ is a truly odd rock n roll vignette that only gets going after a long, atmospheric spoken word introduction. Even new addition, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ manages to update the festive Classic in a weird style, by way of another spoken word introduction where Brandon Flowers tells us about his experience of Christmas in Las Vegas before inviting his influential primary school teacher to sing the song with him.

But it’s strange moments like this that make ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’ such a singular and heart warming collection of Yuletide tunes. The band may fall short of penning their own Christmas Classic – an ambition they seemed to briefly harbour (‘Great Big Sled’ comes closest) – but that said, I’m struggling to think of another popular band who have even attempted a Christmas album in the timespan of the songs collected on this album. The Christmas single is an old tradition that has fallen out of favour. The band’s adherence to the form speaks to their reverence for rock history and their desire to belong to the cannon. But these irreverent and often ambitious festive experiments prove that The Killers aren’t just thoughtless hacks going through the motions. They have always been more interesting and peculiar than they have been given credit for, and ‘Don’t Waste You’re Wishes’ emphasises that point with jingle bells and aplomb.

7/10

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