Ah the showgirls, the cheap booze, the stonking great lights. When I went to Las Vegas, I was amazed like everyone seems to be, by the plastic-y opulence on the strip and – BOOM – how it drops off almost immediately after a few eye popping moments. And then almost immediately you begin to feel the sparse emptiness and economic depression of the rest of the town.
When they first began, much was made of the fact The Killers were from Vegas and they played up to the louche glamour with their cheap suits and geographically specific artwork. Listening back to ‘Mr Brightside’ now you’re struck with how the song mixes those dual strands of Las Vegas within itself, especially in the chorus.
The synth line that kicks in during the chorus is (intentionally?) cheesy, but it is paired with that ascendent chord progression which suggests that, even at this early stage, their Springsteen fantasies were never really that far away. The lyrics read like a sub-plot of Gossip Girl, but Flowers delivers with such urgency that you’re there with him every step of the way. When he sings: “I just can’t look/ It’s killing me” you totally believe him. And although the track was inspired by Flowers’ experience of romantic betrayal, he didn’t write the song.
In fact it was guitarist Dave Keuning. Flowers caught the ex with another man in a local bar in Vegas, as he tells it: “I was asleep and I knew something was wrong. I have these instincts. I went to the Crown And Anchor and my girlfriend was there with another guy.” Keuing related this drama via swooping guitar figures and swift stanzas.
The suggestion of Vegas plasticity sticks though, through the title ‘Mr Brightside’. The optimistic front suggests a children’s superhero and a retreat from real life pain through fantasy which seemed to suit The Killers, a quartet obsessed by the twin pillars of British indie (New Order, The Smiths) and determined to carve out their own little corner of anglo-pop in Vegas.
In our review of the track we placed the band as the flip-side to The Strokes’ oily New York scuzzers. “‘Mr Brightside’ sounds as massive and magnificent as impossibly filthy, drugged-up sex with strangers,” we said.
‘Mr Brightside’, the follow up to ‘Somebody Told Me’, cracked the Top 10 after it was released in May 2004. The first song they ever wrote – in their very first rehearsal, no less – it would go on to become the band’s signature tune. Later it would land at Number 5 on our 150 Best Tracks Of The Past 15 Years and Number 3 on our Most Explosive Choruses list. And while it’s in danger of being overplayed – especially at indie club nights – there’s no denying the song’s enduring, exhilarating melodic power.