Imploding the Mirage is a grand, glamourous synth-rock record with arena-sized choruses. Corny, over the top and wearing its influences firmly on its sleeve, it's also amongst their best works in over a decade.
Opening their stirring surprise set at 2017’s Glastonbury Festival, Brandon Flowers announced that ‘They say you play the John Peel Stage twice in your career, once on the way up and once on the way down….’ The pulsating performance was amongst the highlights of the festival that year, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that - through Brandon’s words - the journey was nearing its finale. This feeling heightened soon after when it was announced that original member - and lead guitarist - Dave Keuning had left the band. Surprisingly, you’d be wrong.
Three years after that performance and the Killers have released their 6th studio album, Imploding the Mirage. For a band written off more times than any other in the past decade, there’s plenty to behold here. Their debut Hot Fuss might be 16 years old - an absolute lifetime for a Rock band at the top - but ambition remains in abundance from the Las Vegas band.
It’s easy to turn your nose up at the Killers these days. You know exactly what you’re getting; the glamour, the synths, the big heartland choruses, the references to Vegas and the 80s; all rolled into one. Let's be honest, in an age where guitars are out, they’re more guilty than pleasure. Their lack of subtlety, anthemic heartland sound and Brandon’s occasional clichéd songwriting has put many off.
The Las Vegas band lost their hip status back in 2004, today bringing in as much hate as they do love, but their music still resonates with millions of people across the globe and will for some time yet. For reference, check out the headline festival slots they play (they headlined Glastonbury again in 2019 with guest appearances from Johnny Marr and The Pet Shop Boys) and massive venues they still sell out, the crowd going wild for every word sung from ‘Human’ to ‘Mr Brightside’.
Resisting the urge to be cynical, I decided that going into the new Killers album with zero expectation was the best approach. Open minds are hard to come by in music, but using exactly that I’d be lying if didn’t admit to finding it a surprisingly enjoyable experience. The stadiums may have shut due to a global pandemic, but try telling that to Brandon and co, the arena’s are sitting there waiting to hear Imploding the Mirage.
The album opens with ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’, an atmospheric introduction which quickly kicks into an 80s heart-on-sleeve, Bruce Springsteen-inspired anthem. Before long, the gleaming synths come into their own and, as far as openers go for ‘heritage’ acts, this is definitely up there on the more energetic end.
If ‘Dying Breed’ wasn’t about Brandon’s relationship to his wife, it could easily describe the surviving existence of the band itself. They’re a dying breed in a world shunning guitars and rock n’ roll. Here the phrase applies instead to the private life of the Killers frontman, a happily married father of three in an industry which rejects such convention.
The lead single from the record is the infectious synth-pop track ‘Caution’. A funky bassline plays over Brandon’s lyrics about a "black top, white trash" girl who, like the band itself, can go "straight from zero, to the Fourth of July". The chorus then, some might say typically, laments the lure of his hometown of Las Vegas ("If I don’t get out/ Out of this town/ I just might be the one who finally burns it down"). It's easily the highlight of the album.
The most interesting track on the album is definitely ‘Fire in Bone’, taking a slight detour from the traditional Killers sound to a more funk-based 80s pop song. A quirky track with an obvious Talking Heads influence (it will have you instantly hunting out ‘Once in a Lifetime’), there's a 'Prodigal Son' inspired story at its' heart. Brandon describes a man feeling alone and chastised, before being unexpectedly accepted again upon his return to a former lover.
"And they say no one's gonna save you You gotta make it on your own But I called from the dark And you picked up the phone" Brandon Flowers on 'Fire in Bone'
The album finishes on ‘Imploding the Mirage’, another quirky, catchy song exploring the relationship with his wife and also his love-hate relationship with Las Vegas, two themes which frequently appear through the record. It's a fitting end to this 40-minute journey of glamour and grandiosity.
Imploding the Mirage may sound tacky in parts, but it’s a solid performance from Brandon – vocally, he’s knocking many of the choruses out the park - and the rest of the band, establishing a new lease of life. 16 years after their debut, the Killers clearly have the ambition to continue being the grandest and most glamourous Rock band in the world.
The music review website Pitchfork, who are long term critics of the band, gave the album a glowing review and stated that:
Led by the exquisite brio of Brandon Flowers, the Las Vegas band returns with one of their biggest and best albums, a marvellously absurd collection of synth-rock gems and arena anthems.
It’ll do very little for those who already dislike the band, though that said, even if you had a passing interest in them back in the 2000s, many of the songs will leave a lasting impression. If you enjoyed it as much as I did, you'll be pleased to hear that - having recorded over 50 news songs recently - they're also planning to release another album next summer.
In a world which has long chastised the Killers, the critics are slowly coming round to a band who look far from one on their way down, a distance away from Brandon Flowers' 2017 Glastonbury prediction.