Two sold-out nights at the O2 Arena, that couldn’t have been received more ecstatically if The Smiths had appeared, unannounced, as the secret warm-up act. A Wembley Stadium date. A number one album that’s made the biggest impact since their debut. And you thought The Killers were coasting to their doom after ‘Day & Age’ and their momentum-killing “family time”?
Not a chance. After Brandon admitted to me, with a heavy sigh, that “we’ll always be chasing Coldplay now” earlier this year, Las Vegas’ brilliant bombast-belters have finally made the leap to rock’s top league that had previously seemed a grasp too far. They’d never even tried veiling their ambition, declaring from the off that they wanted to be as big as U2, so after two enormous desert rock/electro pop albums in ‘Sam’s Town’ and ‘Day & Age’ without a sniff of a stadium date, their career inevitably seemed underachieving. It looked like they were destined to stall at the arena level, their Glastonbury headline set too quiet to go down in history as a major breakthrough and their albums too keen to emulate other stadium bands to justify them getting there on their own merits.
So what changed? How have The Killers, after a half a decade of meandering through the upper reaches of the music scene, succeeded in vaulting into the UK stadium circuit where their early 00’s US rock contemporaries like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The White Stripes – in fact everyone bar Kings Of Leon – have thus far failed? And how come they’ve endured when entire Detroit blues rock scenes, hordes of post-Libs squat janglers, Aussie rock revivals, new rave movements and funk-punk thunkers have floundered?
Consistent tunes have certainly helped. However galling you might have found the Springsteenisms of ‘Sam’s Town’ or the 80s AOR gloss and ‘Everything I Do…’ bits of ‘Battle Born’, Flowers and friends have always cracked out fresh crowd-pleasers with every release. In retrospect ‘Sam’s Town’ was, melodically, virtually faultless, its hits ‘When You Were Young’, ‘For Reasons Unknown’ and ‘Bones’ easily matched by the roaring epics ‘My List’, ‘This River Is Wild’ and ‘Why Do I Keep Counting?’ ‘Day & Age’ gave us the impeccable ‘Spaceman’ and at Friday night’s O2 show ‘Runaways’ got as big a cheer as ‘Somebody Told Me’. At every step, The Killers have given us thrillers.
Then, their recent break was actually an astute move, but only because it came off the back of years of dedicated and determined graft. For their six solid years on the road during the 00s, The Killers seemed a constant presence in the UK; we were rarely more than six months from their next arena show, secret club gig or festival appearance. So dues had been paid in our eyes, and their two years off only helped fuel a bulging expectation for ‘Battle Born’. Combined with a relief they hadn’t imploded – a fact largely down to the strong family values at the band’s core – the comeback gave us the chance to truly appreciate a band we’d been taking for granted since 2004.
But most of all, this revived rise is down to the fact that they don’t just admire UK culture, they actively yearn to be part of its lineage. Home-grown acts have found it much easier to ascend to the stadiums in the past fifteen years – Muse, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys and even Kaiser Chiefs have whacked it out of the park in front of home crowds – while the cold and aloof attitudes of the New York pack have proved to be a self-created glass ceiling in the UK. We’ve had such a bumper decade at home, we haven’t needed to devote ourselves to US acts. But The Killers have studied and embraced our styles and scenes from Duran Duran to Depeche Mode, while adding their own desertscape scope and neon glamour. As much as they bat away the tag of The Best British Band From America they still covered Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ at the O2 and quoted The Smiths in their apology for cutting their Manchester dater short. Hence, there’s an intrinsic warmth and connection that’s allowed Great Britain to accept The Killers more easily into its hearts, wallets and massive sporting venues. Now put your feet up lads, grab an overpriced hot-dog and stay as long as you like…