With their new album, Day & Age, The Killers deliver a nearly perfect alt-rock record that reflects the band's sin city roots and, at the same, embraces their ongoing domination of the world's music scene.
These guys have come a long way since their debut album, Hot Fuss, burned up the charts several years ago. Back then, The Killers embraced a glam rock image and churned out hits like the paranoia charged rocker, "Mr. Brightside." In those days, lead singer Brandon Flowers wore mascara and led The Killers into becoming the musical embodiment of all that is Vegas, unapologetically mixing various styles with extravagance and pulsing energy. In Hot Fuss the band brought us synth infused, big stadium, dance tracks, and we loved them for it.
Then came their second studio collection, Sam's Town, which Mr. Flower's had promised would be the best rock album of the last quarter century. Sadly, with this sophomore project, the glam roots of Vegas had vanished, giving way to a more earthy, (and at times bizarre) old west/Americana themed collection of songs. Maybe Springsteen or Mellencamp can get by with this "down-to-earth," "everyman" approach to songwriting. But not The Killers!
Fans of Hot Fuss will be pleased to hear that with Day & Age our boys have left the world weary old west of Sam's Town in the dust and are, once again, riding the rocket toward the glam rock stratosphere where they belong.
From the first minute of this opening track, it is obvious that The Killers are back in true form and that this is going to be a worthy album. After a short building of layers and volume, this track begins to drive as the lead guitar trades off with a biting riff from a tenor sax driven horn section. Soon, Mr. Flowers begins to sing the verse over this repeated riff, foreshadowing the incredible arranging and layering effects that are to come. The song's lyrics and tune shift in mood throughout, with instrumentalists and vocalist obviously on the same wavelength throughout. A stellar guitar solo at the end of the track is worthy of attention. This song goes from driving rock to soft pop and then back again and stays stylish all the while.
The first single released from the album brings Brandon Flowers' synth work back to the forefront. While the song also features an undeniably catchy melody, the lyrics are somewhat confusing and troublesome (not uncommon from The Killers), having sparked much controversy in the blog world. There is a line from the chorus that reads, "Are we human or are we dancer?" that many fans are hearing as "Are we denser" (which some would contend makes more sense and avoids faulty syntax). Nonetheless, Flowers claims that he was inspired to write these lines by condescending quote from the late writer Hunter S. Thompson about Americans raising a generation of dancers. Lyrical confusion aside, this is a gem of an alt-rock song that introduces new sound effects to the genre and leaves its melody playing in your head after each listen.
The third track of the album keeps the energy high as the band mates kick it off with a chorus of repeated and often syncopated "ohs." This is possibly the most feel good song about alien abduction ever recorded. Here again, we have an over-the-top, silly lyric coupled with a catchy tune that brings to mind the paranoid drive of "Mr. Brightside." It's like "Space Oddity" or "Rocketman" on post-punk stimulants. There is a short drum break that segues into the bridge that stands out on this track. Three tracks into the album and the fantastic hooks just keep coming. In fact, this song has several of its own!
While this song is not likely to be released as a single, it is a personal favorite, at least for its verse. The track starts out with a funk tinged bass line before Flowers enters with the vocals. The melody is simple, but full of glam rock and sleazy likability. The lyrics are somewhat Vegas-dirty, and Flowers' shaky voice handles them perfectly. There is a clever drum and sax fill between the first chorus and second verse. Though the chorus is a bit of let down in that it doesn't hold up against the verses, overall this is a track that displays The Killers at home with their own brand of raucous Vegas excess.
"A Dustland Fairytale"
In this track, we have a bit of an epic that many have said is reminiscent of Jim Steinman and that features a lyric about a modern day/western Cinderella. It begins with just piano and Flower’s solo vocal and soon builds into an up-tempo, dramatic, rock production that brings to mind Elton John’s “Levon” in many ways (just a more highly charged version). With "Dustland," the lyric has potential , but gets a bit ridiculous with lines like "Cinderella's in a party dress/but she's lookin' for a night gown" and "I saw the Devil wrapping up his hand/He's getting ready for a showdown". Such off-beat lyrics can be forgiven when placed in context with the beautiful melody and stirring arrangement. I only wish the solo piano and vocal in the first verse had been extended longer. Flowers really has a unique and emotive voice that shines on this track. It is unfortunate that we can't hear it without the constant wall of background sound more often.
"This is Your Life"
Believe it or not, this song actually begins with the guys chanting "a wimoweh" (which is used as a backing figure through much of the song). This creative intro soon segues into an infections lead guitar riff. Before you know it, the synth joins in, the drums strike a rock march beat, and the vocal delivers another catchy melody leading to a chorus that hooks you immediately. This track boasts a perfect arrangement that layers sounds and melodies in a way that harkens back to Beatles recordings.
"Goodnight, Travel Well"
To close the album, The Killers create a sound scape that sounds like a mixture of Pink Floyd, Coldplay, and Radiohead. If "Dustland" was a bit of epic, then this one is the real thing. The arrangement makes use of booming pedal points in the bass instruments, synth sound effects and conga drum fills. With perhaps the best lyric on the whole record (with lines like "all that stands between the soul's release/this temporary flesh and bone" and "The unknown distance to the great beyond/Stares back at my grieving frame") , Flowers sings about coming to accept the loss of someone in his life and makes the lyric completely believable as he and the ethereal instrumental arrangement build to a fantastic crescendo that is nothing short of beautiful. Cymbal crashes and background vocals from the rest of the band help to make this closing song a big, bold, and powerful finale to a wonderfully produced album. This track is The Killer's first true masterwork and is a signal of their growing maturity as a rock band.
Day & Age is an album that is very well produced. The songs are all radio friendly and are filled with great musicianship, infectious energy, and broad appeal. It would be pushing it to call any of the tracks from this project bad. While tracks like the rocking "Neon Tiger," the steel drum laced "I Can't Stay," and 80's inspired "The World We Live In" aren't as focused and well recorded as the aforementioned songs, they are still far better than average and serve as more than filler material on this triumphant collection.
On their third album, The Killers are back in their stride. They are a little loud, a little retro, a little excessive, a little glam, and a little punk. Just like we like them. While their lyrics may not be the most intellectual or even coherent, the music still delivers. After all, did we ever listen to The Killers for the depth of their lyrics in the first place? If it's thoughtful and artsy lyrics you long for, listen to a Cohen or Taupin song. However, if it's great quality alternative rock you want to hear, you won't go wrong with this new recording from The Killers.
After experimenting with different approaches in Sam's Town, The Killers have come back home to their Vegas showmen roots and their 80's, post-punk inspiration to deliver what is one of the best albums of its genre this decade. While perhaps Brandon Flowers was being a bit egotistical when he billed Sam's Town as the best rock record in the last 25 years, in the case of Day & Age it seems he just might have something to brag about.