I can’t believe it’s been over eight years since The Killers exploded on the scene with “Somebody Told Me.” Initially I hated them. Couldn’t stand that song (still can’t), and I was convinced that all these people fawning over them were idiots. Fast forward almost a decade and I count myself as one of their biggest fans. I liked the majority of Hot Fuss, other than that first single, but they really converted me on Sam’s Town.
I still think that second album is their best work so far. It’s a much more intimate record that cuts away some of the gloss from their debut. Day & Age was just a side step. It didn’t build on Sam’s Town at all, but tried to mix some of that personal songwriting with the filter of mainstream radio around it. Most of the songs are still good, but could have been so much better.
Over the past four years the band has been on a break, allowing time for Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci to put out solo records. Flowers released Flamingo in 2010, and it was a woeful miscalculation. He said he wanted to make a record that didn’t sound like The Killers, but then recorded a handful of songs that sound exactly like Killers songs. Vannucci fared a little better with Big Talk, but it doesn’t age well. He also had a guest spot with Mt. Desolation that was ok, but nothing great.
With all that said, I was excited for Battle Born to hit. They released “Runaways” a while back, and while it wasn’t amazing it did sound good. The band started streaming the record last week and I liked it immediately. I’m now on my tenth or eleventh listen, and it gets better every time.
What struck me at first is how adult Battle Born feels. Flowers has been getting older along with his audience, and his writing is much more mature this time around. On Flamingo I felt like he was trying to release his inner Bruce-and here he’s finally found it. He writes about being a father, a husband, and trying to be better every day.
His new role as rock n roll dad supplies a lot of material to write about. One of my favorite songs on Battle Born is “Be Still,” a piano-led lullaby that gives way to heavy bass and synth. It’s a really beautiful tune about working hard to get where you want to go and not compromising your integrity, but really it’s a song about a father’s love for his child. I can’t think of anyone but Flowers that could pull off these lines and sound genuine.
Wild and young
Long may your innocence reign
Like shells on the shore
And may your limits be unknown
And may your efforts be your own
If you ever feel you can’t take it anymore
Don’t break character
You’ve got a lot of heart
Is this real or just a dream?
Rise up like the sun
Labor till the work is done
“Here With Me” is another song with a slow tempo that sets itself apart on the record. This one is about a man broken by a bad relationship. He fell in love young and naive, took it for granted and lost it. Now he’s pining for the girl that got away. There’s a lot of power and emotion in the vocals on this track, which is something I think The Killers have been missing for a long time. Flowers has always had a good voice, but he’s never been great at displaying feeling. If Battle Born proves anything, it’s that he is one of the best pop/rock vocalists around today.
I’m really happy that Battle Born came together so well. After their hiatus I was afraid that maybe the band would have a hard time getting their momentum back, but they’re firing on all cylinders here. Musically they haven’t changed so much as evolved into a more efficient machine. They’re letting the song come to them now instead of forcing a song out. There’s a great one-two punch of “The Rising Tide” and “Heart Of A Girl” where you can really feel the influence that Lou Reed’s collaboration had on them. There’s much more nuance at work on this release than any other Killers record, and I think listeners will really appreciate that. For big time fans, don’t worry. These are still the same guys-just older and wiser. They’ve realized that the key to songmaking is to just be true.
Naturally there is a huge tour coming to celebrate this record. They’ll be here in Chicago on 12/21 with Tegan and Sara set to open. For more details, check out their website.