Records Ranked: The Killers

When The Killers came bustling out of the gate with Hot Fuss they had all the givings of a musical comet. Sure, there were 4 huge hit singles but there’s no way a band with vaudevillian showmanship and a love for padded synths would last, right? Yet here they are, almost 15 years later and while they have never quite duplicated the same commercial success they are in the rarified air of being able to do just about whatever they want, whenever they want to, and have huge fan following waiting with baited breath. In honor of the wrap of their Wonderful Wonderful tour, a look back through the band’s discography up to this point..

 

#5. Sam’s TownSam’s Town will always be the most polarizing album of the band’s career. It’s seen as either a massive letdown or the band’s misunderstood masterpiece. Neither is entirely true. The biting, gritty quality to many of these songs wasn’t a colossal departure but it was a clear message that they weren’t out to write Mr. Brightside 2. Flowers graduates from the largely boy-wants-girl lyrics of Hot Fuss to much more fleshed out ideas on songs like “Uncle Jonny” and “Read My Mind.” But for large sections Sam’s Town loses its way through unmemorable hooks and questionable musical left turns. It’s much easier to appreciate and see what the band was going for in hindsight but this aesthetic has also, tellingly, never been repeated.

 

#4. Hot Fuss – The Killers are still playing huge venues largely because of this album. It’s a tale of two sides – a relentlessly epic first half and a second full of disjointed synth pop cast offs. Hot Fuss is suspiciously imbalanced, as evident by all of the eventual hit singles (among them, “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me” and “All These Things I’ve Done”) ending up on Side A. Perhaps as their debut this was an intentional strategy as a means to maximize impact, but as an album it undeniably suffers for it. A more balanced track sequencing would’ve given songs like “On Top” and “Change Your Mind” a better chance. But as presently constituted, Hot Fuss never manages to recover momentum from the crunchy opening of “Andy You’re A Star.” It is their most important album but far from their best.

 

#3. Battle Born –  The crux of listening to Battle Born is finding where the band’s influences end and the The Killers’ own sound begins. It’s the only album of theirs that lacks a mic-droppin, catchy as-all-hell hit single and without one there’s no mission statement for what Battle Born is trying to be. The band dons the guise of Springsteen (“Runaways” and “The Rising Tide”), Americana at large (“From Here On Out”), Meatloaf (“The Way It Was”) and a bad Vegas lounge act (“Here With Me” and “Heart Of A Girl”) but never to an extent where you’re sure if it’s a full on pastiche or if they’re going for an unabashedly eclectic collection. In EP-sized doses these songs are enjoyable but it’s hard to ignore the lack of thread, musically or conceptually, to tie it all together.

 

#2. Wonderful Wonderful – After several albums of painting  abstract lyrical portraits, Brandon Flowers is personal and introspective on Wonderful Wonderful – examining young, arrogant bravado (“The Man”), idol worship of athletes (“Tyson vs. Douglas”), and his wife’s issues with depression (“Rut,” and “Some Kind Of Love”). It’s their most emotionally resonant batch of songs. It’s likely Wonderful Wonderful is the band’s transition album from young, bustling rock stars to middle aged luminaries and if so, they have laid the map for a promising future.

 

 

#1. Day & Age – For albums 1 and 2 The Killers bombastic pop vibe was countered by a brooding sarcasm but on Day & Age the band opted to paint in technicolor. It manages to be upbeat without being optimistic – accomplishing the feat by simply trading cynicism for uncertainty (“And I’m on my knees looking for the answer” Flowers sings in “Human”) and embracing varied, mostly schmaltzy musical textures. “I Can’t Stay” is an album highlight if for no other reason than the hilarious lengths they went to achieve a pseudo-Carribean vibe. The muzak sax solo “Joy Ride” similarly ends up as a guilty pleasure. It’s that reckless spirit which sets Day & Age apart. Whether intentional or not, letting go of those musical boundaries results in a palpable and infectious joy.

 

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