Three lonely G notes pierce the darkness of Madison Square Garden. They hang over the arena like fading heartbeats, just three little pushes of a piano key. But everybody knows exactly what they mean. The lonely, hollow synth grows, bringing in gospel chords and Brandon Flowers’ new-age croon (“When there’s no where else to run / Is there room for one more son?”). The piano cuts past the synth, the organ envelops everything, and Flowers, wearing a black leather jacket haphazardly decorated with giant feathers, continues (“If you can’t hold on / If you can’t hold on / Hold onnnnnn”). The drum kicks, the lights ignite, and the Garden goes crazy for The Killers’ anthem.
It’s been six years since that performance at MSG, and somewhere along the way, The Killers lost their edge and became another confused, crap band. First, a brief, unauthorized history. The Killers exploded out of Las Vegas and onto radio top 40s across the country around 2004 with the release of Hot Fuss, and magnificent single “Mr. Brightside.” People thought they were English. They were weirdly obsessed with an ’80s British vibe, but pulled it off by exploring a dystopian, darkish tone and selling it all with an unironic earnestness. Flowers, the lead vocalist and piano player, formed the band with guitar player Dave Keunig, and the duo linked up with drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. and bass player Mark Stoemer. Hot Fuss went No. 1 in the UK, reached No. 7 on the US Billboard 200, and my middle school classmates and I remained deeply confused about the lyrics of “Somebody Told Me.” The Killers were off and running.
The release of Sam’s Town, the group’s sophomore album, made one thing very clear—Flowers was controlling the show, guiding the band according to the pull of his influences. Headlined by “When You Were Young,” Sam’s Town proved to be an excellent album and another big hit domestically and internationally, maybe because it sounded like a Bruce Springsteen record. Flowers admitted The Boss’ massive influence on the album in interviews at the time.
Two years later, The Killers followed up with Day and Age, their most abstract, unfocused and vocals-driven album yet. With baffling lyrics like “Are we human or are we dancer,” and sweeping, ham-handed metaphors like “Neon Tiger,” the album was weird enough and catchy enough to work as an art piece—oh, wait. “No, it’s about a tiger,” Flowers told TimeOut Chicago. “I’m not an animal-rights activist, but I was trying to feel what it must be like to be Siegfried and Roy’s white tigers.”
Okay, so even though “Neon Tiger” is actually about a tiger, Day and Age still held up as a dancey album, albeit as almost a total departure from the Hot Fuss sound. It was disconcerting, however, to see the Killers depart so drastically from their hard-guitar edge and Coruscant bar synths. As seen in the TOC interview, fault lines were spreading throughout the band:
“Your lead-singer peers, Paul Banks of Interpol and Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, both have solo albums out this fall. Have you considered it?”
“Brandon Flowers: When things get really dark in the band. When the arguments get rowdy enough.”
In 2010, The Killers went on hiatus, and Flowers released Flamingo, his first solo album. I remember eagerly anticipating it, still an adamant Flowers disciple at the time. It was one of the worst albums I’d ever heard, and I realized that it was Flowers’ obsession with sweeping synths, cliches, and his desire to drive a track with his own vocals was the force destroying The Killers.
“Killers, please come back,” wrote Consequence of Sound, giving the album an F.
In 2012, four year’s after Day and Age, The Killers came back with Battle Born, a worthless travesty of an album they seemed embarrassed to play live. I saw the band’s summer tour twice that year, and across two shows they played a combined six songs off the album they were supposed to be marketing. Listen to the record and it’s easy to understand why. “Miss Atomic Bomb” is a floundering, structureless cliched version of “A Dustland Fairytale” with more whining and less Friday-Night-Lights-Tim Riggins-ish charm. “Prize Fighter” sounds like it was produced in GarageBand and written by a someone deeply inspired by “We Didn’t Start The Fire”: “Shes a pillar by the day / A fire by night / She’s a famous architect / Like Frank Lloyd Wright.” I too, enjoy comparing women I love to 20th century architects. More so on Battle Born than any other album, Flowers’ voice takes a front seat, leaving his bandmates floating in the background. The title track is the kind of song Bruce Springsteen would write if he was a soulless robot programmed to write bad songs about American disillusionment—“From the Blue Ridge to the Black Hills / To the redwood sky /The season may pass / But the dream doesn’t die”—are you freakin kidding me, Killers? Maybe the worst part of it all is that the best song, “Runaways,” was a leftover track that couldn’t fit on Sam’s Town.
Three years have passed and there’s no whispers of a new Killers album. As it stands, The Killers have one of the greatest hits collection of the last 15 years. There’s no reason for them to continue sullying their legacy, The Killers need to stay dead.
Flowers released “Can’t Deny My Love” this March, the lead single off his second solo album, The Desired Effect. “Can’t Deny My Love” sounds like the rabid, brooding diary entry of a creepy ex lover played over a cheap, pounding dance track.
“When you close your eyes, tell me what you see / Locked up in your room is there any room for me?” Flowers asks.
Sorry Flowers, no more vacancies.
Featured Image Courtesy of lifeofablon.com
do you still think Flamingo is one of the worst albums you ever heard?? what about only the young, crossfire, welcome to fabulous las vegas, jacksonville, right behind you, magdelena…they’re all great songs
Flamingo is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard but The Desired Effect is way better. The problem with a lot of the original Killers fans is that they have trouble adjusting to the changes The Killers have gone through with each album. They went in thinking The Killers were one type of band, and then The Killers proved they’re like The Eagles or Journey, they’re always trying to prove they can do different styles and up the ante and they’re good at making big arena songs. I only recently discovered The Killers and they’re one of the few bands I’ve heard over the past 10 years that I really like and I think me just discovering them now helps me look at them as a diverse band that does it all, rather then expecting one style on every album and getting disappointed when it’s not that.