It’s hard to dislike The Killers. No, scratch that. It’s actually really easy to dislike The Killers. It always has been, ever since Brandon Flowers first launched his guy-lined mug on to the world’s stage, preening in hammy monotone about being called Mr Brightside (like, whatever), before making an album of Springkenstein rock that stacked musical cliché upon lyrical cliché like they were Jenga blocks. Dislike is what The Killers trade in. Love-hate is their currency. That twinge of ‘do-we, don’t-we?’ is what’s kept that man’s moustache in this magazine’s pages throughout 2007. It’s a piss-take, yes, but also an affectionate one. But it’s still a piss-take… Oh, we’re so confused. The singles: hooky as hell. The filler: to say ‘cheese on toast’ is an insult to both wheat and dairy. Their live show: intensely theatrical. Their offstage personas: business-minded.
By rights The Killers should’ve been pulled over by the authenticity police long ago, but somehow they seem to actively thrive on chameleon-ing their way around the popscene. Through the hype and anti-hype the voice that always penetrates is Brandon saying things like, “We want to be important and to last.” Lest we forget, this is the man who, in the run-up to the release of ‘Sam’s Town’, told some poor journalist that it would be “one of the best albums of the last 20 years”. If you could read his mind he’d be picturing a bearded musicologist’s lips blowing the dust off of a seven-inch copy of ‘Bones’ in 2050 before puckering into awe like it’s Bob Dylan’s lost basement tapes.
So, as he stood atop the summit of Glastonbury this year, it probably never crossed his mind that to release an 18-track compendium of B-sides and rarities after only two albums would be an act of pre-eminently punchable chutzpah, nor that perhaps some things are rare for a reason (ever tasted Tramp-Flavoured Twiglets?).
Naturally, we’re gunning for them. But – would you believe it? – that moustachio’d man has only gone and made an album that’s hateable and likeable in precisely equal measure. Grrr! Stepping up first to be shot down, as with almost any B-sides compilation, are the cover versions. To summarise: anyone who needs to hear a flaccid version of Dire fucking Straits’ ‘Romeo & Juliet’ will die alone. And anyone who needs to hear hokey late-’60s AM radio standard ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town’ will die alone smelling of wee. Recorded for the Beeb in 2005, ‘Ruby…’’s twin obsessions of sexual jealousy and boozy Americana do at least make it a 600ft, bullet-flecked retrospective road sign pointing towards ‘Sam’s Town’. Elsewhere on ‘Sawdust’, there’s more evidence for musicologists debating The Killers in the year 2050 to suggest that, yes, the moustache was always waiting in the wings. 2004’s ‘Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf’, the missing part of the ‘Hot Fuss’ murder trilogy that takes in ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ and ‘Midnight Show’ reveals itself to be a hokey countrified boogie-woogie, in which the central character warns the ill-feted Jennifer about his flaws (sexual jealousy, being a bit of a drunk – see above).
But dig deep and there are some moments of class which are the equal of their first two albums. ‘Tranquilize’ documents the gut-gnawing paranoia of life in the early 21st century and features the Lou Reed, who possesses the voice of a bar-room-bleached 300-year-old man. Further clues to The Killers Version 3.0 can be divined from Jacques Lu Cont’s OMD-mazing remix of ‘Mr Brightside’. A shimmering sound that Brandon’s already hinted may be where their magical mystery tour heads next, it re-imagines the reality of ’80s dancefloors far more acutely than ‘Hot Fuss’ ever did. That idea is given further weight by ‘Where The White Boys Dance’ – built around a chorus that captures all the Teutonic groove-strut of Bowie’s late-’70s output, it’s beautifully stilted. Add to that the glassy sadness of Joy Division cover ‘Shadowplay’, the ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ guitar snarl and turbine-drum clatter of ‘Daddy’s Eyes’, and the ricocheting ‘Move Away’, which first appeared on the soundtrack to Spider-Man 3.
The rest? B-sides to a man. For the uninitiated, a B-side is basically like an A-side, but not as good. Mainly they judder along, underpowered by half an idea, a couple of chords and some streaks of sex-synth before terminating somewhere around the three-minute mark. Well, what exactly were you hoping for? They may have been galvanised into forming by an Oasis gig, but even the Gallaghers held out until album three before jizzing away their offcuts. ‘Sawdust’ reveals a band with a healthy blueprint for success, sure, but ‘The Masterplan’ it ain’t.