With their new album Pressure Machine receiving critical acclaim on par with 2020's Imploding the Mirage, the Las Vegas band have given themselves a new lease of life.
Between Autumn 2004 and Spring 2005, The Killers were, for a stage, the coolest band around. Well, in the UK at least. On these shores we treated Brandon Flowers and co like they were one of our own, quickly surpassing the acclaim given to New York rockers The Strokes only a few years earlier.
Competing with the Jocks for the sixth form common room music stereo - many of whom had an extremely unhealthy obsession with Usher and 50 Cent at the time (ugh...) - Hot Fuss was the album of choice for the sizeable group of us into our indie music.
Granted songs like 'Mr Brightside' and 'Somebody Told Me' were massive anthems with pop appeal, but they remained just on the right side of the credible, alternative line for it to be considered hip. The new-wave meets indie-rock sound felt fresh, new and exciting and it was heartening to hear that so many young people across the country were catching The Killers bug.
By summer 2005, The Killers appeal was universal. You couldn't escape turning on the tv or visiting your local supermarket without hearing their songs. Though, what felt cool and exciting a few months earlier, was now beginning to grind gears and a Coldplay-ification (you know, a band who outgrow the indie scene and quickly become the antithesis of it) began to get closer by the day. The more every Tom, Dick and Harry would proclaim their adoration for the Las Vegas band the more those early fans began to switch off .
By the time I went to uni in September 2005 - living amongst a group of musically cynical Law students who despised 'popular music' - admitting you liked The Killers was akin to saying you were a fan of Black Eyed Peas or nu-metal. Not cool, man.
The alienation of the indie fanbase continued even further after the release of Sam's Town in 2006; a largely half-baked heartland rock record with a solid first half propping up a disappointing second.
2008's Day & Age produced a couple of excellent singles in 'Human' (there I said, it's a classic) and 'Spaceman', but, again, ran out of steam and felt too cynically pop, turning off those who'd previously embraced their outsider appeal for good. If they hadn't already, many of the early fans had lost interest. The Killers credibility within the indie world was diminished and beyond repair. Or was it?
Fast forward almost a decade to a large field in Somerset, England. Introducing their 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…". He then launched into 2006 hit 'When You Were Young' before a raucous, singalong crowd reminded you how much actually liked the band in the first place.
This statement may have been said with his tongue firmly in cheek, but it also worryingly threatened to label them a heritage act whose best years were behind them. Thankfully, new single 'The Man', with The Killers again showing their ironic side, gave the band new impetus. Was it too little, too late though?
In August 2020, I had to confess that there was plenty to enjoy on The Killers new album Imploding the Mirage, commenting on the ambitious, arena-sized choruses and their infectious take on heartland rock and synth-pop. What felt like a tired formula in the decade prior, suddenly showcased a band who'd found their mojo again. I reluctantly came to admit I was enjoying their work again. Was it ok now to like The Killers?
Only a year later and they're back again with Pressure Machine, proving that they weren't messing about having not even had time to tour the songs from Imploding the Mirage. Upon the announcement of the record last December, two questions came to mind. Had they struck while the iron is hot, or, with little to do during the pandemic, had they simply rushed into another album? Thankfully, in the main, it's the former that applies.
Rather than continue where they left off on their previous, The Killers have opted for a different direction and sound altogether. Gone are the arena-sized choruses and synth-pop influences, and in are the country sounds and characterised storytelling.
During the lockdown, Brandon Flowers went through a period of reflection, contemplating on his formative years in the small Utah town of Nephi. As a result, he's conjured together a collection of songs inspired by his childhood and teenage years.
The first thing you notice on the record is that the majority of the songs are introduced by voice-overs from normal, small-town Americans from the abovementioned Nephi, Utah. They tell us about both the mundane and important issues that affect them, from religion to hunting, to horse-riding and addiction. First impressions were that these felt slightly contrived and a little patronising, but after a few listens they soon became essential to the character of the album itself.
Onto the tracks themselves and from the off you're definitely sensing the strong influence of Bruce Springsteen's 1982 acoustic album Nebraska. I guess you can also throw in The Boss' excellent 2019 country record Western Stars too.
Opener 'West Hills' is a delightful and grand country-rock song. It describes the story of a man arrested for possession of "hillbilly heroin pills, enough to kill the horses that run free" before later seeking salvation. It's an epic tale, aided by strings, harmonicas and mandolins. An outstanding introduction to what the band are trying to achieve, providing a certain wow factor.
Likewise 'Quiet Town' addresses opioid problems and a tragedy involving kids being killed by a passing train. It contrasts these problems with the honest, hard-working locals who carry on as if nothing has happened.
'Terrible Thing' is straight out of Nebraska-Springsteen territory. The song is kept simple with just Flowers' vocals, an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. They support a heartbreaking tale of a gay teenager feeling rejected in a religious town and contemplating suicide.
'Runaway Horses' features indie-folk favourite Phoebe Bridgers, fresh from her 2020 Punisher album success. She naturally brings a level of class and some extra credibility to this project. It's another beautifully stripped-back song about a "small-town girl, Coca-Cola grin, honeysuckle skin" who possesses a passion for Radiohead. Meanwhile, the title and penultimate track 'Pressure Machine' sounds hopeful and joyful, distinguishable within The Killers catalogue for Brandon Flowers' fantastic chorus falsetto.
The ninth track 'Desperate Things' is an intriguing ballad that has Brandon Flowers taking the role of a cop who falls in love with a domestic abuse victim. The story is based on a scandal from his childhood in Nephi, though he takes some liberties and adds in a murder plot in the final verse to add extra drama.
For the most part, Pressure Machine is a delightful change of pace for The Killers, more stripped down and humble without the need for explosives. Encapsulated by the small-town tales and characters it provides a voice to, there's something about this record that will make you feel optimistic and warm inside. You may even come out of this record with a newfound respect for Brandon Flowers as a storytelling songwriter.
Wanting to rekindle their love of America in the wake of the success of the very British 80s inspired Hot Fuss, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is the album The Killers wanted to make with Sam's Town. Well, they've redeemed themselves somewhat here!
Over the 11 songs, Brandon explores character-driven tales of abandoned dreams, tragedies, small-town drug problems, domestic abuse and faith. There may be the odd clunky line here and there, but, for the most part, it works. The pictures he paints feel real without too much corn, nor do they feel the need to go, as they sing on 2020 single 'Caution', "straight from zero to the fourth of July".
It won't put them front and centre in a way that Hot Fuss did, but The Killers lockdown revival has been a joy to behold.
A band that was written off over the past decade time and again are proving there's still some credibility left.