The Killers have quickly propelled themselves into the forefront of popular music by combining unmistakably catchy vocal melodies with modern glam-core keyboards, retro guitar riffs and steady dance beats. The majority of the albums you find in the “rock” section of your average record store these days (can we still call them record stores when they don’t sell records anymore?) are laden with either dark and dirty songs about hating your father for not being around or being bitter towards some girl that dumped you before your band was rocking arenas. And who can blame her, how was she to know? It’s for this reason I haven’t bought a new CD from anywhere but a merchandise table in like four years, (Fire Theft’s debut, soooo good.)
The lyrics on Sam’s Town are just one of the winning marks for the sophomore album by the Killers; vocalist Brandon Flowers made sure they wouldn’t ever, ever, ever leave my head. Lines like, “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus but he talks like a gentlemen, like you imagined, when you were young,” get stuck in my head for days at a time. It’s hard to like a band this good at being so pop sensitive. But at the same time, how can you hate them? They’re good.
It’s too easy to write off a band because of their mainstream success. We do it all the time. We stand in the corners of dark, hipster-filled clubs saying things like, “Yeah, I guess Interpol use to be pretty cool, but they totally sold out,” or even worse, “Jimmy Eat World’s first album wasn’t bad at all, but they suck now.” Well, okay, they do suck now. But the point isn’t lost. We get mad when we lose one of our favorite secrets to the rest of the music listening world. Admit it. You were pissed the first time you saw a sixteen year old preppy girl with a studded belt throwing up her hands in cliché devil horn fashion at a Rapture show.
But the Killers aren’t that band, they were never our secret. These guys aren’t claiming any indie credibility. They didn’t spend ten years touring clubs and house shows, asking over the PA at bars if anyone had a floor they could crash on. They got together, wrote a very tight pop album, and were recognized for their marketability and talent almost right away. And now, they’ve followed that album with another really, really good pop album.
The band began when Brandon Flowers answered an ad in the classifieds posted by Killers guitarist Dave Keuning. Flowers left his band (Blush Response) and started writing songs with Keuning. Mark Stroermer (bass) and Ronnie Vannucci (percussion) joined soon after and the Las Vegas foursome began a quick ride to the top.
Flowers and Keuning say that their main influences are the Smiths, New Order, the Cure and… get this… Oasis. When I first listened to Sam’s Town, I tried to figure out where they were drawing inspiration from, and two bands jumped out at me. The Cure, not only in Flowers’ well-crafted lyrics, but in the feel of the album, and oddly enough, Journey. Maybe it’s the big guitars, or maybe it’s all of the singing in chorus, but something about these guys feels like the great times I’ve had at karaoke bars chanting “Don’t stop, Believing,” with a bar full of people who, like me, weren’t around when Journey wrote that song.
Very few bands carry the ability to do what the Cure did with pop music. They were able to maintain an unmatched sadness and bare-boned dissidence while keeping the songs upbeat, catchy as hell and radio friendly. They wrote flawless pop songs and added the angst-filled, black-haired, self-important depression that became the face of gothic rock.
The Killers have found a similar feel in Sam’s Town. The songs are as pop as they are rock and still maintain an honesty and sincerity that is not often seen in mainstream rock. The lyrical content is meaningful. The songs aren’t all about heart ache and bad parenting. I’m not going to analyze the meanings of each song for you, because Brandon Flowers is such a thoughtful writer that I could spend ages arguing with myself. Part of the fun of this album for me, like the Cure’s Head On the Door, is connecting with the mind of the song writers. Nothing in the world compares to the feeling you get when you listen to good lyrics, accompanied by appropriate music, and you know these guys have found a wonderful way to communicate something you’ve always felt in a way that is at once poetic and spot on. The Killers are one of those bands that don’t come along often; an undeniable collective of pop/rock aficionados slowly rising toward their full potential. And I believe that we haven’t seen the best of these desert flowers yet.
– Kennith J. Ball