The title fight between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas that the standout track from The Killers’ fifth album is named after was one of boxing’s most legendary upsets, in which a 42-1 outsider KO’d the self-styled ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ to become heavyweight champion of the world. You might assume – given Brandon Flowers’ well-documented love of one-horse towns, dustland fairytales and American dreamers – that ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ would be written from the underdog’s perspective, punching up, but in fact it’s the opposite: the song is about the fear of his own kids seeing him knocked down and usurped, just like Iron Mike was on that fateful night in Tokyo. Heavy lies the crown, but Flowers still guards it jealously.
As well he might: The Killers’ ascent to the top of the pile didn’t happen easily, or by accident. In the five years since their last album, Flowers has had to deal with chronic writer’s block (see the meditative ‘Have All The Songs Been Written?’), the decision of two of his bandmates to in effect retire from touring and his wife Tana’s ongoing struggles with PTSD. You can understand, then, why lead single ‘The Man’ – for all its puff-chested front of white-funk invulnerability – has some funat the expense of Flowers’ younger, more cocksure self, who presumably imagined that real life wasn’t something he’d ever have to worry about once he saw off The Bravery.
The rest of ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ makes it clear that isn’t the case. The title track, sprouted from the same gnarled root as their 2007 Lou Reed collaboration ‘Tranquillize’, is a desperate call to his wife to “stay on the path that leads to the well”, while the self-explanatory ‘Rut’ has to claw its way out of listlessness to reach its euphoric peak. Elsewhere, Flowers’ faith is foregrounded to an unusual degree – the actor Woody Harrelson pops up to introduce the swampy disco-rock of ‘The Calling’ witha reading from the Book of Matthew, while ‘Life To Come’ is a U2-sized arena-shaker about how marriage isn’t just for this life but the next one, too.
As a songwriter, Flowers has never been particularly guarded about himself – he’s neurotic, driven, sentimental and sometimes corny – but he bares more on ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ than ever before, and the result is the band’s best album since 2006’s ‘Sam’s Town’. It might get lonely at the top, but The Killers aren’t going anywhere just yet.