The Killers seem intent on installing a glittering dancefloor under every dessert and stretch of abandoned highway the great American expanse to offer or, at the very least, they appear content sprinkling some sand and sweat throughout the world’s indie clubs. Sam’s Town, Day & Age and even Flamingo clawed uncomfortably towards a solitary stadium vision of The Killers sound, combining Roxy Music and Duran Duran with Springsteenian grandstanding and U2’s arena filling simplicity without ever quite settling on one homogenous sound. Battle Born by contrast is the most cohesive and focused work of the band’s career. Anglofile and American influences interweave more naturally than ever before, and the album has a strong sense of purpose.
Retreating closer to the model first espoused on Sam’s Town, The Killers have all but abandon stomping hits and indie transience in favour of panoramic storytelling and portentous slow builds. Brandon Flowers still struggles to find an original voice, drawing a striking parallel to disaster movie king pin Rolan Emmerich. Rather than fostering a sense of character and heartache through intricacies of his writing, Flowers instead relies on an array of well-established (often cliché) images to imbue his songs with prefabricated resonance.
Fairytale endings, white knuckled contenders, and the fires of hell – all the usual tropes are in place, and that’s just the first song. However, unlike previous efforts, Flowers seems more self-aware than ever before, intentionally mixing the tired imagery of the American mythos with the hallow, but far more interesting, thrills of Las Vegas. On stunning swelling arrangements he struggles to place himself against the neon lights as he walks through the transient town he calls home. The results are still hit and miss, but on the Eno inspired “The Rising Tide” The Killers create a sprawling epic out of kitsch UK pop elements, before the band clear the floor for Flowers on “Heart Of A Girl”. He struggles beneath the unwarranted weight of self-imposed expectation, but still delivers a touching tale of placelessness.
“From Here On Out” is another triumph. Ungodly sweet, and chocked full of preset imagery, it succeeds through sheer brevity. Bristling along at a frightful pace, this craftily arranged track stands out when set against an album of stiff crescendos and widescreen sincerity. The intimate moments are worth cherishing, as much of Battle Born drowns beneath the sheer scale of The Killers ambitions, and their now cavernous sound.
“Be Still” perfectly captures The Killers awkward predicament. Too much of a slow build to be proper pop song, it does provide Battle Born with a beautiful sung high point in the heartbreaking plea “Don’t Break Character”, which Flowers instantly, and obstinately, undermines with a clunky cliché (“You’ve Got A Lot Of Heart”). It’s a common failing, but an endearing one. Heartfelt insights sit in dangerously close proximity to cookie cutter hallmarks of Americana while fist-clenching crescendos are juxtaposed with deliciously camp coos and sultry synth lines – it can be disorienting, and it’s certainly heavy going, but also oddly inspiring. It may not fully thrill any one set of Killers fans, but Battle Born is an accomplished, if oblivious, composition. David Hayter