Yesterday on BBC Radio 1, Brandon Flowers of the Killers confirmed that his band will be releasing a new album this year “in the summer time or in the winter time” and the world went, “um, OK.” Back when the Killers burst onto the scene in late 2003/early 2004, there was something exciting about them. Sure, they unabashedly lifted sounds from the ’80s and gleefully hopped on rock’s neo-revivalist bandwagon. But still, there was something sexy and magnetic about their debut album Hot Fuss. It may have been superficial, but damn was it shimmery and cohesive and catchy.
Then, the guys got self-serious. They studied up on their Bruce Springsteen, wheeled out the glockenspiel and horns, riffed on blue collar Americana, and morphed into something completely different from that glossy Vegas pop-rock band of 2004. Later, they brought back the gloss for Day & Age, but employed a “see what sticks” approach, leaving us with toothless worldbeat rock. While you have to at least give them credit for evolving over these three albums, you don’t have to like it (we don’t). They may please the masses now, but they’re no longer exciting, no longer relevant. So with their fourth album in the wings, we have five suggestions to help this once-exciting band redeem itself. Granted, the forthcoming album is all but done at this point, so this may be a case of too little too late, but that won’t keep us from airing our grievances. After all, it was just the season of Festivus.
1. Stop squeezing your affectations dry.
On Hot Fuss, it was pop-tinged post-punk. On Sam’s Town, it was “Born to Run.” On Day & Age, it was soft rock. Stop getting hooked on one niche sound and squeezing it dry on every album. Try to be a bit more eclectic with your visions and let them breathe a little. Or just go back to that post-punk phase, because that was your best.
2. You used to have a dark edge. Bring it back.
Debut album Hot Fuss featured swollen synths and sticky melodies, but it managed to sneak in some bleak, raw energy, too. “Jenny was a Friend of Mine” and “Midnight Show” were about a murder, and the chorus of an early B-side just repeated the phrase “kill me now,” for God’s sake! “Smile Like You Mean It” and “Everything Will Be Alright” were moody ’80s songs repurposed for the pop charts. What happened to that sensibility? Now you’re singing about space and aliens; stop looking up at the stars and go back to mining that dark emotional cave.
3. Enough with the garish animal prints.
What ever happened to your Cure-via-J. Crew shtick from 2004? After that, Flowers sported 1800’s oil tycoon facial hair, and you all began dressing like fighters in the Mexican-American War. Then with Day & Age you went glam, trying to out-Steven Tyler each other with ascots, animal prints, and bow ties. You guys change aesthetics more than Coldplay. Tone it down a tad! Your early style was simple, now it just seems like you’re trying too hard (like Coldplay!).
4. Stop trying to sound epic.
On Hot Fuss, many of your songs sounded effortlessly grand. The first five tracks totally smothered the listener with epic synths and hooks and pop confidence. Then you channeled Springsteen and tried very hard to sound even more epic, with songs like “This River is Wild,” “Sam’s Town,” and “A Dustland Fairytale,” and they all sound like bloated Americana rock opus outtakes. Trim the fat! (In a recent interview, drummer Ronnie Vannucci said the new album would feature more guitar. This is promising.)
5. Brandon, lose the quavering vibrato.
In the early days, your delivery was charmingly blase and brooding, fitting right in with the music. Now you’re making grandiose proclamations in a pitchy, trembling vibrato that distracts from the music. Bring back that lower register of the Hot Fuss days (we saw a flash of it on “Goodnight, Travel Well” so we know you still got it). And while you’re at it, bring back that fake Robert Smith accent, too. The band sounded cool back then. Whatever you are now, “cool” doesn’t quite describe it.