Relevant Rock: The Death of the Killers

“Battle Born” by the Killers (Island, Vertigo, 2012)

When The Killers burst onto the pop culture scene in 2004 with their debut album Hot Fuss, it became clear that something fresh and vibrant was afoot in the world of rock. There was a certain swagger to the music, with an assured grounding in 80′s dance rock that was re-imagined to sound stylishly modern.

And there was something more. The songs on Hot Fuss had an urgent quality that made you want to sit straight up and pay attention. Lead singer Brandon Flowers’ piercingly strong tenor enunciated the lyrics unmistakably, as if to say, “this is serious business.” The emotions of jealousy and heartbreak over a girl run high in “Mr. Brightside”; the pressures of growing up right seem unbearable in “Smile Like You Mean It”; regret, inadequacy and a craving to stay relevant pervade “All These Things That I’ve Done.” At the same time, Hot Fuss could be wickedly fun, with songs like “On Top” and “Midnight Show” encapsulating the euphoria and excitement of being young, trying to impress a girl and dancing late into the night.

With such a consistently great debut album from top to bottom, expectations were high for The Killers’ follow-up. 2006′s Sam’s Town got decidedly mixed reviews from the critics, but I loved it. Where others saw a band trying to do too much and be too earnest, the album struck me as a turn toward exploring life’s big questions as well as self-examination. “When You Were Young” seems to wrestle with the dangers of expectations held too high, and is also the band’s first serious foray into the spiritual, with a reflection on the temptation of sin and a name-check of Jesus. The incredibly great “For Reasons Unknown” explores the mystery of lost passions with an addictive and propulsive guitar and drum attack. Lines like “My lips, they don’t kiss, they don’t kiss the way they used to” and “My eyes don’t recognize you no more” are sung with such energy that it’s impossible not to feel it in your bones. Elsewhere, loud yet brooding guitars and a trudging drumbeat propel “Uncle Johnny,” an ode to the darkness and tragedy of drug addiction. The bluntness of lines like “He’s convinced himself right in his brain / That it helps to take away the pain” is startling, but sound fitting when delivered by Brandon Flowers in stark sincerity.

The exploration of serious themes continues in The Killers’ third album, 2008′s Day & Age. Even the straight-ahead dance rock hit single “Human” speaks of being on one’s knees “looking for the answer.” Lines like “Give my regards to faith and virtue / Give my condolences to good” lead into “My sign is vital / My hands are cold,” as if speaking of the folly of seeking salvation in entertainment. Perhaps this is what makes the ridiculous question in the chorus oddly compelling: “Are we human, or are we dancer?” Towards the end of Day & Age comes “The World We Live In,” an uplifting treatise about living in the moment and staying the course amid an inevitably tumultuous and confusing world.

The Killers went on hiatus in January of 2010 following their supporting tour for Day & Age, but lead singer Brandon Flowers stayed active, releasing the solo album Flamingo in September of 2010. While the album doesn’t stray too far from The Killers’ signature 80′s dance rock sound, Flowers’ spiritual side is revealed much more clearly. “10,000 demons hammer down at every footstep / 10,000 angels rush the wind against my back” he proclaims in “Playing With Fire.” He later professes his faith in the face of adversity: “I’ve got this burnin’ belief in salvation and love / This notion may be naive, but when push comes to shove, I will till this ground.” Elsewhere, the song “Crossfire” paints the world as a spiritual realm in which we are “Caught up in the crossfire of heaven and hell / And we’re searching for shelter.” Later in the track there’s a strong rebuke: “Tell the devil that he can go back from where he came / His fiery arrows drew their blood in vain,” followed by hope: “Our dreams will break the boundaries of our fear.” A triumphant guitar solo immediately follows, as if to hammer the point home amid the comforting lines “Lay your body down.”

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Dan Hart

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Dan Hart, a Catholic writer and rock and roll enthusiast. He currently maintains a blog on music at Beautiful Exile.

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  • Howard Cohen

    Speaking of overwrought….

  • Michelle

    Great descriptions of the Sam’s Town album. I never thought about the lyrics that way before.

  • chaco

    Yay! for those who aren’t satisfied with the incomplete satifaction of mere Relativism & Hedonism. If we aren’t Mining the Depths” of Jesus’ words; “These things I have spoken to you…that your Joy may be full.”, we are like the proverbial hound dog “Barking up the wrong tree.”

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