It hasn’t been the greatest of autumns for stadium indie’s class of 2003, returning with their third albums. The scrawny Razorlight tried to reinvent themselves with U2 bombast, but displayed a spectacular misunderstanding of what makes that band tick and ended up finishing behind Simple Minds. Kaiser Chiefs wrote as many catchy songs as ever but remained disappointingly samey. The Killers, though, are different; not just because they’re American, but because they never made sense to begin with. A band from Vegas writing pulpy murder trilogies that sounded like they wanted to be New Order? The only reason it worked was their heroic knowledge of how to make a chorus fizz.
And then, the Great American Misadventure that was ‘Sam’s Town’ ended up being upstaged by Brandon’s ridiculous moustache. Still, ‘Tranquilize’, the Lou Reed collaboration from the (also inexplicable) B-sides compilation ‘Sawdust’, hinted at far bigger things. The ’tache has mercifully gone and Brandon’s put down his Steinbeck novels (for a while at least) but the overblown mania is still there. The good news is that they’ve found some useful ways to channel it.
The Killers’ third album, then, has most in common with Bloc Party’s ‘Intimacy’. While melodically there’s nothing to touch their early singles, the whole thing’s carried by such a burning desire to improve and expand you can’t help but be carried along. It’s them out to achieve importance and you can see this in the titles. ‘Day & Age’, ‘Human’: big statements that cover so much they mean, specifically, absolutely nothing. Brandon won’t even condescend to make the latter’s chorus (“Are we human or are we dancer?”) scan let alone make sense. Next single ‘Spaceman’ casts him as a Ziggy Stardust figure waffling on about “starmakers” and “dream-makers”. Baffling, but an infinitely more compelling brand of gibberish than Borrell and his “hot-bodied girlfriend”.
Musically, news that electroboogie wünderkind producer Stuart Price was handling ‘Day & Age’ suggested they were going to go full-on new romantic, which they do, a bit, on the airy ‘Human’. But Price has pulled off a smarter trick: after doing ’80s Britain and ’70s America, The Killers now finally sound like… themselves. Certainly, the opening ‘Losing Touch’ actually sounds like it was made in Las Vegas.
If there isn’t quite a ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Spaceman’, the real smash, is close. And though the results are sometimes hilarious, the band’s songwriting knack is pushed in every direction it will go. On ‘Joyride’ they try – oh yes! – sax’n’samba! ‘A Dustland Fairytale’ finally perfects the kind of widescreen Springsteen epic they flailed for on ‘Sam’s Town’; ‘This Is Your Life’ has African chanting reverberating all over the place; ‘I Can’t Stay’ tries Caribbean beats and harps. Best of all is the strutting Bowie homage ‘Neon Tiger’, before things tail off a little on the synthy ‘The World That We Live In’ and the boring seven-minute closer ‘Goodnight, Travel Well’.
That this all manages to sound like the same band is down in huge part to Price, but The Killers’ work ethic has also seen them become musicians to match the value-for-money rock stars they always were. ‘Day & Age’ has no place on indie dancefloors – that’s not the point, we’ve got Friendly Fires and Justice for that now. And yes, as The Killers strut about rock’s premier league, there’s plenty to guffaw at. But just as much to admire.