The Killers embrace 1980s U2 hugeness
“Let’s go out tonight/There’s a mystery underneath the neon light/Before life and the dream collide/’Cos the truth’s gonna come and cut me open wide” – ‘Rising Tide’
Economies collapse. Relationships crumble. Families decay. Girls go wild, boys go soft, fathers go out in the dead of night and never come back. Brand new Vegas malls stand deserted, capitalist paradises buried in the dust. From his solid Mormon family unit ensconced amid the temptations of Las Vegas, it’s an emotionally desolate and godless world that Brandon Flowers sees. After three albums with The Killers and a solo outing, ‘Flamingo’, full of comic-strip stories of murder, sex, cocaine-snuffling uncles and spacemen, comes the fourth record by the Vegas quartet. The truth’s come to cut Brandon wide open. To make him finally decide: are we human, or are we danger?
Yes, The Killers have emerged from their four-year exile with big issues on their minds and a big noise to make about them. ‘Battle Born’ – like Springsteen’s ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ – is a record full of stirring tales of lost teenagers, broken families, crushed dreams, shattered hearts and breadline living. The first single ‘Runaways’ follows a couple from their first flush of romance to the day the fucked-up new dad flees the scene. Blustering ballads ‘The Way It Was’ and ‘Here With Me’ tell of a desert drive taken to think over the first cracks in an affair, and the crushing nostalgia pangs once it’s over. ‘Deadlines And Commitments’ is inspired – in a Herculean feat of irony – by a chat with tax-avoiding economy-buggerer Jimmy Carr.
Bleak themes indeed, but hey, this is The Killers, right? So for all the Lou Reed collaborations, they’re hardly going to make their own ‘Berlin’. Instead, they naturally inject a sense of youthful hope and heroism: their tragic protagonists face their fates with the nobility of French revolutionaries mounting the guillotine, and their stories are interspersed with inspirational chest-beaters about manning up in the face of hard times (‘Flesh And Bone’, ‘Matter Of Time’, the title track). And they are all couched in the rousing ballast of the Big Music.
But where ‘Battle Born’ will split opinion is that it’s the Big Music of 1986. The band that made the Duran Duran synth-sizzle the coolest sound on the planet with ‘Somebody Told Me’ are trying the same with the lush AOR throb-rock of Peter Gabriel, U2 and Kate Bush. ‘Flesh And Bone’ recalls the ’80s work of Daniel Lanois, one of the album’s numerous producers, and the mullet sparkle of the St Elmo’s Fire and Dirty Dancing themes. Then there’s Springsteen, of course. ‘Be Still’ feels like a remake of ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’, while ‘From Here On Out’ relives ‘Glory Days’. It’s a natural progression from the synth-pop of 2008’s ‘Day & Age’ through Brandon’s desert-diva solo album, and marks the point where The Killers discard ‘indie’ pretence and go for the arena-rock jugular.
That said, the core Killers thrill still dashes through ‘Runaways’, the title track, and ‘Matter Of Time’. And ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ is the ‘Mr Brightside’ prequel that lays the bitterness of Brandon’s biggest hit to rest, tracing the rise and fall of a romance with a cheating, fag-stealing harlot, the “dagger buried deep in my back”. But even when they’re shunning the alternative, The Killers can’t help but be in step. Mark Stoermer’s loping bass over the tale of Brandon taking a broken waitress under his wing turns ‘Heart Of A Girl’ into their own ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, building towards a huge gospel finale. Meanwhile, ‘Deadlines And Commitments’ echoes Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tango In The Night’ album, the coolest sound in New York right now.
If you’ve the stomach to set aside your indie sensibilities and endure the occasional terrifying flashback to ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’, ‘Battle Born’ holds some majestic moments. We shouldn’t let the Big League own The Killers just yet.