Even though the protagonists were from Vegas, not Vauxhall, Hot Fuss was undeniably a reverent indexing of the best of late-twentieth-century British pop music from Oasis to Duran Duran via Queen, New Order and Soft Cell. Such unfettered nostalgia struck a chord with a global audience and from the carefully-honed press hysteria that accompanied debut single "Mr Brightside" (e.g. The Sunday Times wrongly proclaiming it the "Teenage Kicks" of the noughties) to their effortless performance at Live 8, a perfectly-executed PR blitz helped the Las Vegas quartet’s careers eclipse the sort of dreams that their hometown sells to desperate strangers. Returning three years later sporting facial hair, wedding rings, and wardrobes realised from spaghetti western backlots, reinvention was clearly agenda item #1.
Gone was the indie-disco template which had resonated so powerfully. The band unceremoniously discarded nearly a full albums’ worth of material rehashing the Hot Fuss sound and hired Flood and Alan Moulder to produce. From its moody cover portrait of an aging showgirl to the lyrical consternation of "Uncle Johnny" (in which the freebasing titular relative, afraid that aliens are coming via the TV to steal his sperm, attempts to halt the process by shooting his bollocks off), Sam’s Town was testament to singer Brandon Flowers' new muse: the vast, bombastic, wrong, epic vista of his country.
Filling his songs with proclamations of regret and ten-step piety, Flowers used Sam’s Town to document the moral and spiritual assignations of his generation as told from the weed-choked trailer parks and ruined back seats of the real Las Vegas, far away from the strip and its gaudy neon cathedrals of sin. In stark contrast, the musical backdrop to these kitchen-sink dramas was an epic panorama, vaudevillian (as on the titular opener) and highly orchestrated with Messrs. Flood and Moulder delivering their trademark stadium-friendly sound, most obviously on the Tom Petty-chiseling "When We Were Young". For history lovers, only "Bones" recalled the honeyed nostalgia of their debut, yet for all its romanticised portrayal of blue collar Americana, Sam’s Town isn’t set in the same galaxy as Nebraska, no matter what PR flacks might have you believe.
The gilded nostalgia recalls the Clinton era with Flowers' closing sobriquet, “it doesn’t really matter, don’t you worry it’ll all work out,” reflecting the haphazard, trust-to-luck belief systems on which the American way seems to have been founded. That said, given the musical one-and-a-half trick pony that was Hot Fuss, the creative realisation of this stylistic volte-face has been executed in a dynamic and committed way; Sam’s Town isn't a bad record, just one with an identity crisis. Given The Killers' calculated history in career planning, one hopes that they haven't simply raided their cultural touchstones to create a path to longevity. The evidence of the two years since its release has failed to resolve that question.
The Killers' latest album, Day & Age, is set for release on November 24, 2008 in the UK and November 25, 2008 in North America.