Tag Archives: The Killers

The Killers ‘Direct Hits’ – Review

23 Nov

This is the album Killers apologists have been waiting for – it’s definitive proof of their greatness. The band have always endured a lot of unfair criticism, because critics like serious indie bands and they like frivolous pop music but they don’t like serious indie bands that make frivolous pop music. The Killers don’t fit snuggly into any critically approved category. They have always been too alternative for the mainstream and too mainstream for the alternative. Like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kings of Leon and (formerly) Razorlight, The Killers are unfairly snubbed by pretentious rock critics yet thrive off a passionately loyal, enthusiastic and uncool fanbase.

The greatest hits format suits the band – their best albums are structured like this anyway; built around the hits, with the classics at the start and filler at the end. On ‘Direct Hits’, they’ve put the singles in chronological order, and it contains most of them (with the exception of ‘Bones’, ‘Here With Me’ and ‘The World We Live In’ – none are particularly missed). ‘Mr Brightside’ was their first release, and it remains their finest hour; In fact It’s probably the greatest indie-pop karaoke song of the last decade and arguably any other.  It defines the band’s signature style in that it evokes a series of musical and lyrical contradictions that somehow work together. It’s nonsensical but it makes perfect sense. It soars like an anthem yet retains an intimacy and edge. It’s about jealousy and reclusiveness yet projects ambition and unity. ‘Mr Brightside’ is a conflicted epic which finds truth in emptiness and contains more hooks than it knows what to do with. It’s also immensely sing-alongable.

These factors are consistent in all the band’s best singles. I can think of few groups who manage to be as deeply profound whilst being so deeply silly. In fact, the sillier the songs appear, the more revealing they often are. Brandon’s choice of costume is usually a good indicator of this –  If he’s got the feathers or pink tux out you’re in for a thrilling revelation, if he’s gone for the cowboy suit, less so. If it’s leathers and jeans then forget about it. Think of their most memorable lyrics: ‘Are we human or are we dancer?’ ‘I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier’ ‘Somebody told me that she’s got a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in january of last year.’ These are ridiculous (which is why everybody remembers them) but look beyond them and  you’ll see that, at times, Flowers is a remarkably switched on lyricist.

‘Hot Fuss’ in particular strikes a thoughtful note about clueless, self-mythologising millennials searching for meaning in a meaningless environment. Its tales of wasted lust, disorientation and fading youth are offset by hooks that come thick and fast; the production shimmers and sparkles, and very little is left to nuance.  On ‘Somebody Told Me’ our narrator’s in a dirty club of blinding lights, chasing a mirage and leaving empty handed. On ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ he gets behind the false bravado of the U2 riffs and gospel choir to reveal a lost soul – ‘I’m so much older than I can take.’ On ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ he is overcome with nostalgia for the recent past whilst the music echoes The Human League and a forlorn Pet Shop Boys. Brandon doesn’t tell you he’s down, he reveals it with the quietly sad imagery. ‘Someone is driving her round the same streets that I did.’ The title, and sunny hooks, put a tongue in cheek Las Vegas spin on the melancholy. And there you go – ‘Hot Fuss’ is their most succesful album partly because they manage to balance their natural flamboyance and extravagance with an ambition (that would fade over time) to be broodingly indie. This is what separated them from generic competitors like Boy Kill Boy and The Bravery. It’s also what made them more original than detractors gave them credit for.

In 2006 the flamboyance and extravagance took over. After the sleek and sleazy sophistication of ‘Hot Fuss’, ‘Sam’s Town’ was a rootsier and more Americanized take on the same set of influences. ‘Sam’s Town’ has its own set of staunch defenders but I don’t feel it stands the test of time as well as ‘Hot Fuss’. It’s both lyrically and musically overwrought and at this point the band often resembled a beefed up cabaret act doing a juvenile Bruce Springsteen impression. That said, its best songs are collected here and they stand up very well indeed. ‘When You Were Young’ is an established classic, but the other singles are less well-remembered. ‘For Reasons Unknown’ and ‘Read My Mind’ are interesting takes on the break up song, and the latter is a rare moment of subtlety on ‘Direct Hits’; its conflicted emotions of regret, ambition and anger are genuinely moving.

‘Day and Age’ stands up as the most eclectic and consistent start to finish album in the band’s discography. The three singles represented here (‘Human’, ‘Spaceman’ and ‘Dustland Fairytale’)  tackle dance-pop, glam-rock and classic rock respectively. Of the three, ‘Human’ is the one to pay attention to. The Bowie-esque ‘Spaceman’ is nearly as ridiculous, if not nearly as enjoyable, but ‘Dustland Fairytale’ is problematic. It marks the point where The Killers started taking themselves waaaaay to seriously. They would keep working on this overblown Springsteen impression on ‘Battle Born’, successfully on the epic ‘Runaways’ (one of their finest achievements) but less so on the yawning ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ and the average ‘The Way It Was’. ‘Battle Born’ wasn’t a bad album but it did suggest that when The Killers ignore their glam impulses and their indie tendencies, They are nothing more than a distinctly average arena rock band.

Luckily, the new material here is modestly promising. ‘Shot In the Dark’ and ‘Just Another Girl’ combine the dramatic narratives and grandiose arrangements of ‘Battle Born’ with the sleeker synth pop sound of ‘Hot Fuss’; they are interesting enough to suggest that this could be interesting territory to explore in more detail. Neither of these songs are essential (‘Shot In the Night’ falls short with a weak hook and production that brown noses M83 far too much) but they are hints that ‘Direct Hits’ won’t be the band’s final statement. On these two songs at least, The Killers still sound and look like a young band. They have a relevance most bands approaching their second decade simply do not have. ‘Mr Brightside’ and ‘Somebody Told Me’ could have been released ten years ago, but they equally could have been released yesterday. They sound that fresh. In a sense that makes ‘Direct Hits’ a rather redundant record – these songs are still very much in the public consciousness and The Killers are more popular and appreciated now than they’ve ever been (in the UK at least). If ‘Direct Hits’ is meant to sum up a band’s achievements then this works well, if it’s meant to remind their audience that The Killers still exist then it isn’t needed in the first place.  They’re still beloved – just go down to your local karaoke bar or propoganda club night if you want evidence.

9/10

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

New Music (July 2012)

16 Jul

 

 

The Killers – ‘Cowboys’ Christmas Ball’

2 Dec

Every year since 2006, The Killers have given us a christmas single and 2011 is no different. So far the singles have been hit (‘Great Big Sled’, ‘Better You Than Me’), miss (‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Boots’) and downright bizarre (‘Don’t shoot me Santa’) and this new one definitely fits in the latter category. Check out ‘The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball’ below.

 

The Killers ‘Rising Tide’

25 Jun

A very very new one from The Killers, performed live last week for the first time.

TOP 25 ALBUMS of 2008

10 Jun

I’ve been doing top 50 albums and tracks every year since 2004, and have them stored away under lock and key somewhere! I may put them up, I may not – depends on if I can be bothered, doesn’t seem that important. But I think 2008’s is important because it’s still pretty fresh, so with no further babble here is the top 25 (I decided to condense it down) albums and tracks of 2008 as decided by moi.

ALBUMS

1. Day and Age – The Killers

2008 was the year some of 2004’s greatest hopes – Kaiser Chiefs, Keane, Bloc Party, The Zutons and Razorlight – came back with third albums that simply wouldn’t do. None fell flat on their faces (OK maybe Razorlight) but none have lived up to the promise of thier debuts and this showed in both reviews and chart performance. Bands that once had a shot of being the next big stadium group were reduced back to playing small venues, a stark reminder of the way our society love to build a band up only to knock them down.

One band stood out however, by coming out with not only their strongest album yet but one that sold well, was well received, produced a hit single and showed they are perhaps the real stadium band of the future. The group were The Killers and the album was ‘Day and Age’.

Rarely do a band come back with a third album as self assured, confident and versatile as ‘Day and Age’. The Killers were unafraid to try their hand at anything, whether it be the 80’s pop gleam of loosing touch, the overblown ELO-esque grandeur of Spaceman, the calypso tinged ‘I Can’t Stay’ or the melancholy howl of ‘Goodnight, travel well’. Over Ten tracks The Killers produced a spectacular pop album of all killer no filler, it really sounded like it could have easily produced 8 or 9 hits. At the same time it works as a coherent album, they swerve from genre to genre whilst at the same time managing to keep it  recognisably The Killers. It reminds me of Thriller, in the way it borrows from differnt styles and twists them into the shape it wants – and still comes out intact, as a solid 10 track piece of art.

‘Day and Age’ is top of my list because it sounds like a classic album, an album that 2009 will be remembered for, the album The Killers (one of the decade’s most consistent bands) will be remembered for. It’s also the one I keep coming back to.

2. Do You Like Rock Music – British Sea Power

British Sea Power’s third album is as wonderful as could have been hoped. Their debut has revealed itself over time to be perhaps the defining British, Indie debut of the decade and ‘Do you Like Rock Music’ is a magnificent leap forward. Arcade Fire and Godspeed you Black Emperor loom over the album, BSP wear their influences on their sleeve, but this is at the same time an eccentric British record in the grand tradition of Echo and The Bunnymen, Joy Division and David Bowie. Non traditional influences are less easy to spot but clearly there, from the verse of John Betjeman to the drunken hymns of The Wurzels. ‘Do you like Rock Music’ is a fantastic British record, and everyone should own a copy.

3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

The perfect summer band, the perfect summer record. I was impressed when I heard the early Vampire Weekend demos and wasn’t let down when the debut album proper landed in early 2008. I seriously haven’t stopped listening to it since, it’s as fresh as the morning I brought it. Spiky and twisted pop music with African influences to set them apart from the crowd. Ultimately the strength is in the songs – ‘Oxford Comma’, ‘A-Punk’ and ‘I Stand Corrected’ for starters.

4. Oracular Spectacular – Mgmt

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about this great debut album from one of the more eccentric acts of 2008. Wild, eclectic and deranged are three ways of describing ‘Oracular Spectacular’ and whether you hear it on the dancefloor, on the radio or stereo system this album will find a way into your hearts.

5. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

An album of staggering beauty and simplicity, this is a loud hurrah for melody and harmony. The vocals are touching, the playing is rustic and steeped in Americana, folk and pop history. You can smell deep America just from listening too ‘Oliver James’. It’s not haunting as Bon Iver’s record is, but is wonderful in an equally earthy and essential way. Top Marks for a debut of extraordinary promise.

6. The Age Of The Understatement – The Last Shadow Puppets
7. Glasvegas – Glasvegas
8. 21 – Mystery Jets
9. Only By The Night – Kings Of Leon
10. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver
11. Man In The Mirror – Rhymefest
12. All Hour Cymbals – Yeasayer
13. 808’s and Heartbreaks – Kanye West
14. Volume One – She and Him
15. Fantasy Black Channel – Late of the Pier
16. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
17. Death magnetic – Metallica
18. Perfect Symmetry – Keane
19. That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson
20. Falling off Lavender Bridge – Lightspeed Champion
21. Intimacy – Bloc Party
22. Saturdays = Youth – M83
23. Reality Check – The Teenagers
24. Angles – Dan Le Sac Vs Scrobius Pip
25. Primary Transmission – Broadcaster

TRACKS

1. Time To Pretend – Mgmt
2. Two Doors Down – Mystery Jets
3. A-Punk – Vampire Weekend
4. Paper Planes – M.I.A
5. Kids – MGMT
6. White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
7. Crimewave – Crystal Castles
8. Geraldine – Glasvegas
9. Death – White lies
10. Sex On Fire – Kings Of Leon
11. Standing Next To Me – Last Shadow Puppets
12. The Bears are coming – Late of the Pier
13. No Lucifer – British Sea Power
14. Its My Own Cheating heart that makes me cry – Glasvegas
15. In This City – Iglu and Hartly
16. Electric Feel – MGMT
17. Ulysees – Franz Ferdinand
18. Ready For the Floor – Hot Chip
19. Spiralling – Keane
20. No Sex For Ben – The Rapture
21. DNVO – Justice
22. Age Of The Understatement – The Last Shadow Puppets
23. How to Dance – Black kids
24. Human – The Killers
25. Always where I need to Be – The Kooks