The Killers always seem to screech out of the desert every few years driving ever more sleek and spotless machines. This is the first time the band (Brandon Flowers, bassist Mark Stoermer, drummer Ronnie Vannucci and the currently absent Dave Keuning) have turned up with mud on the wheels. Recent allegations of backstage sexual misconduct by crew on a 2009 tour have tainted the corona-delayed arrival of ‘Imploding The Mirage’.
The accusations don’t incriminate any of the core members of the band and the alleged victim (according to their own internal investigation) has claimed that no assault took place. Yet as a band who have assiduously assumed a relatively squeaky-clean image since the mid-’00s, they’ll be horrified to find their good name associated with the toxic aspects of stadium rock, rather than its celebratory bombast.
Ironically, after dissecting Brandon Flowers’ wife Tana’s personal traumas on 2017’s ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, ‘Imploding The Mirage’ is a record about racing on to glory. First single ‘Caution’ was the signpost, its down-beaten “featherweight queen” leaving Vegas a fire-ravaged ruin as she roared off out of a town with too many triggers. Here she’s joined by the lost and broken “white trash” girl of electro-glitz country rocker ‘Blowback’, “sitting on a secret she didn’t ask for – no girl ever did” but determined to fight her way back from the edge. And then there’s the desolate outcast lover of ‘Fire In Bone’, wandering the night feeling “wrongly accused… washed up” and altogether romantically cancelled, but ultimately being welcomed home with forgiving warmth.
Even the songs about growing old and dying have the beatific optimism of a Covid rave. “We’re running towards a place where we’ll walk as one / And the sadness of this life will be overcome” Flowers promises on ‘Running Towards A Place’, while the soaring electro euphorias of ‘When The Dreams Run Dry’ picture an afterlife where “we’ll beat the birds down to Acapulco Bay” and “follow the moon to the stars, to the sun”. If ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ was an arm around a trembling shoulder, ‘Imploding The Mirage’ is a raised fist to the future.
Accidentally, it’s the sort of attitude that could help us all endure such trying times, and The Killers’ sixth album sounds unbreakable too. They long ago reached their natural pumped-up radio rock peak, yet here sound as though they’ve been hitting the sonic steroids.
The aforementioned ‘Caution’ is a radio-friendly desert rocker so cavernous it sounds as though it was recorded in a hollow moon under attack from Battlestar Vannucci. The catchy ‘Dying Breed’, a proud statement of beta male chivalry (“We’re cut from a stained glass mountain / Baby, we’re a dying breed”), opens with reworked motorik synth samples from Can and Neu!, then explodes into a chorus that they must’ve stolen from Springsteen’s lost soundtrack to Top Gun. There are literally explosions – at points they’ve clearly battle-armed Ronnie’s drum kit with tomahawks instead of tom-toms.
If it sounds gargantuan, it’s likely down to the inspired clashes of its marquee cast. Stoermer is still a solid studio presence but former guitarist Dave Keuning remains absent, replaced this time by a cornucopia of star guests and collaborators, elaborating on The Killers’ dustbowl grandeur and cross-pollinating ideas.
You’d bet your classic Chrysler, for example, that The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel had his spectral MOR fingers all over the misty drivetime atmospherics of ‘Running Towards A Place’ or ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’. But no, that’s the influence of TWOD producer Shawn Everett. Instead, Granduciel appears on ‘Blowback’.
Alt. singer-songwriter Weyes Blood provides saintly backing vocals on the likes of ‘My God’ (the sound of Death Cab For Cutie spontaneously combusting) and Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado adds splashes of synthetic retro-modernism throughout. Meanwhile, regular Killers accomplice Stuart Price helps make the elasticated funk of ‘Fire In Bone’ sound like a very, very drunk ‘Once In A Lifetime’. That deranged guitar solo at the end of ‘Caution’, while Ronnie’s carpet-bombing Mount Rushmore? Only Lindsey fucking Buckingham.
The soft rock balladry of ‘Battle Born’ and ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is kept to a bare minimum, and any moments of doubt are buried beneath sheer bravado and confidence. ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’ might be a regretful reflection on Flowers’ early rock’n’roll indulgences, but it’s delivered like Arcade Fire. ‘Lightning Fields’, a tribute to his parents’ enduring love (with K.D. Lang taking the role of Mrs Flowers), is drenched in gospel ardour and the sophisti-funk feel of Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’.
Even the tradition of the troubled-enormo-ballad closer is upturned; the final title track might start with ominous tones and indulge in some operatic chorus swells, but at heart it’s a jaunty shagging song in which the naive teenage hero is deflowered by a “dangerous…tattooed” seductress. Sample lines: “She tripped the breaker, blew the fuse… a bullet train will get you there fast, but it won’t guarantee a long last”. Which might well make the phrase ‘Imploding The Mirage’ the most Vegas euphemism for premature ejaculation ever conceived.
In continuing ‘Wonderful Wonderful’’s atmospheric experimentation with canyon rock enormity, The Killers have made another dazzling statement of ultra-modern pomp, and one arguably even more in step with new generations of alt-rock. It’s a musical DeLorean: rooted in mainstream Americana but speeding into adventurous horizons.
Release date:August 21
Record label: Island Records