What’s eating Brandon Flowers ?
Ever since releasing “Runaways” — the Springsteen-esque lead single off The Killers’ fourth album “Battle Born” — fans have been trying to figure out whether this latest effort is more of the band they know and love or if by embracing their inner “Boss,” its members are learning to tread new waters.
Of course, returning to the public eye after a four-year hiatus can prove to be a daunting chore for any musical outfit, and the pressure on frontman Flowers, whose 2010 solo album was met with lukewarm reception , is arguably the greatest.
On the new disc, he sings about half an octave higher than listeners might be used to. Fortunately, he doesn’t sound like he’s straining himself, which can only mean positive things for The Killers’ style of early-1980s new wave jams.
It’s certainly the album’s highlight. For Flowers, more vocal power means more emotional transcendence, a feature that’s easy to get lost in.
Meanwhile, the familiar combination of ringing guitars and wailing synthesizers sounds more polished thanks in no small part to the band’s decision to work with five different top-tier producers, including Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam) and Daniel Lanois (U2).
The album’s opener, “Flesh and Bone,” initially sounds like something straight out of a retro 8-bit video game, yet gradually builds in intensity as soon as Flowers hits that first note.
Each song is ambitious in its delivery, but in typical Killers fashion, there are quite a few ballads about doomed love affairs.
In “The Way It Was,” Flowers tells of picking up the pieces of a newly-failed relationship and reminisces about its glory days, holding out optimism against the backdrop of a steady groove that evokes memories of post-punk groups, like The Cure , or The Smiths .
Other tracks, like “Here With Me” and “Be Still” don’t fare as well in terms of novelty. Both can be seen as a slow descent into a formula that falls one notch below irrelevancy.
It’s been nearly 10 years since “Mr. Brightside” dominated the airwaves and though Flowers’ tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve has often been pleasing to the ears there comes a time when even the deepest of crooners can become trite.
The only serious low point comes in the form of “From Here On Out” in which the band seemingly attempts to blend its trademark sweeping grandiosity with country twang. At two minutes and twenty-eight seconds, it’s the shortest song on the album, possibly suggesting they didn’t even trust themselves on that one.
However bold it is to say, The Killers have always been a singles band. “Runaways” might be the only song to match the popularity of “Somebody Told Me” or “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” but “Battle Born” is a solid rush of arena rock at its finest.
Download: “Runaways,” “The Way It Was”
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