It’s a simply but controversial task. How to you access and place the albums which mean so much to so many people? Fans are devoted and passionate, but they’re also territorial and blinded by their own personal experience. They often cling to one image of a band, the early days are often held up as essential while later recordings are slated. Popularity is often labeled as a bad thing and changes in direction are often shunned unfairly – these positions aren’t wrong, but they are often irrational and based more on emotion rather than critical assessment.
Assessing a band’s legacy is never easy, albums change as fashions change. Hated failures suddenly become relevant, and what seemed cool a decade ago suddenly seems dated. No choice is fool proof. Great albums don’t come in one shape or form, and the exact element that makes one album great can make another terrible, but that’s what makes music, and discussing it, so exciting.
So enough couching, let’s get down to the business, and we start are new series with: The Killers. World conquerors, the dancefloor and festivals favourites who have never quite seemed comfortable in any one skin. Battle Born will be released before the end of the month, and The Killers have a sold out tour right around the corner, so what better time to reflect on their legacy.
Rank The Albums:
3. Day & Age (2008)
By 2008 The Killers were one of the biggest bands in the world. Anticipating their ascent, Sam’s Town pulled out every stadium sized conversion cliché in the book. The turn around was drastic, but it left The Killers with very little wiggle room. Do they continue to perfect their stadium rock aesthetic or do they attempt to rediscover the naivety and freedom of their debut?
Day & Age didn’t really do either. Instead, The Killers created a hodgepodge record. A Las Vegas survey that felt too stilted for the indie clubs and too underwhelming for the stadia. “Losing Touch” screamed Roxy Music, but The Killers lacked the edge of Eno, and only managed the smooth posture of latter day Ferry. The ear for pop remained unquestionable, but “Human”, “A Dustland Fairytale” and “The World We Live In” never quite reached the heights of previous singles, and didn’t have enough new ideas to truly excite. The album’s central dilemma was captured by its final two tracks; “Goodnight, Travel Well” a portentous slow build that pulled all the right shapes without shaking the listen to his core, and “A Crippling Blow” a quirky understated ending, cute, catchy, but desperately lacking in potency.
2. Hot Fuss (2005)
The Killers know how to make an entrance; Hot Fuss simply couldn’t fail. Starting with five indie dance floor classics, The Killers androgynous, almost clumsy, enthusiasm was infectious. Brandon Flowers got away with murder (“I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not A Soldier”) for five tracks because he couldn’t help but stumble across one gigantic scream along hook after another. The synths stole the show as Flowers channeled Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, bringing the sounds into the 21st Century to the point where they could sit comfortably alongside Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines and even Joy Division and New Order.
Sadly, on the album’s second half Flowers lost his dexterity. Amateurish and half understood post-punk workouts stood next to screaming indie, pointlessly heavy riffs and swooning drunken rambles. Simply put Flowers did glitz and urgent glamour better than he did raging despair and powerful pleas. In truth it was a daring attempt to move beyond the slick melodious template, but unfortunately The Killers fell off a cliff chasing their musical heroes.
1. Sam’s Town (2006)
A frustrating album for many Killers fans, Sam’s Town marked the moment when the band attempted to face up to the headline destiny that seemingly laid before them. Embracing Springsteen and an resolutely American set of sounds, The Killers upped the intensity and embraced rock and roll without giving up their ironic wink and nod. Flowers still struggled to write truly piercing lyrics, but set against a torrent of thunderous guitars and a arid landscape, The Killers greatest weakness, their inherent corniness, came to their rescue.
Practically every idea on this album is awful. It’s fake glamour, phony depths, and surface level grandstanding. Sam’s Town is a checklist of difficult second album don’ts, from embracing the Boss and Bono to asking pitifully meaningless questions (“Have You Ever Seen The Lights?”) and revelling in unwarranted pomposity (“For Reasons Unknown”). In many ways, it’s hilarious, and it would be completely unbearable were The Killers not so inherently glitzy.
It’s the great American expanse as imagined by a demented Las Vegas Hotel. You can practically see the sequin cowboy suits and the neon cactus. Brandon Flowers hinted at his own unwitting ridiculousness on “Andy You’re A Star” and “These Things That I’ve Done”, but Sam’s Town took it too a whole new level. Every irresistible hook from Hot Fuss is replaced by a super serious plead, as Flowers spend practically every second on his knees as if every empty chair and potted plant he encounters sets a new standard in wind swept rustic magnificence. He tries so hard, and it does work (“Read My Mind”, “Sam’s Town”, “When You Were Young”), but the album clicks when it doesn’t. The album is so hallow, to the point where it becomes a curious concept album; a marvel of indulgent stupidity, that dazzles through it’s own wrongheadness – and bizarrely, it’s the only Killers’ record that works as a satisfying start to finish experience.