The Killers lied to us.
They promised us David Bowie, Ian Curtis, Lou Reed, Elton John, New Order, the Cars and the Cure. Their debut album "Hot Fuss," came out eight years ago in the mid 2000s where there was a sudden, and short-lived, revival of new wave bands (RIP The Bravery, Hot Hot Heat, Franz Ferdinand). Although the Las Vegas quartet were one of the few groups to make it out alive, they decided to dramatically change their sound on their sophomore follow up, "Sam’s Town."
Lead singer Brandon Flowers and his band mates traded in their synths for dusty guitars and their love for English dance music for Bruce Springsteen and songs drenched in Americana. Gone were the days of eyeliner and glittery outfits and in their place were leather jackets and boots. But it surprisingly worked.
They went down the same path on their 2008 LP, "Day and Age," but also took some risks by adding horns and a touch calypso (steel and Congo drums) into the mix. Again, Flowers and Co. turned out another successful album, albeit underrated.
The records all sound different, but they all had a connective tissue: each LP offered listeners at least a handful of memorable songs thanks to catchy hooks and cheesy, but endearing lyrics. And although the Killers’ latest effort, "Battle Born," goes for the gusto it tries too hard and ends up being a flat album with its priorities in the wrong order.
"Born" is the first Killers album in four years and it sounds like the band is trying to prove something. Maybe they want to be more than a singles’ band or maybe they’re worried people have forgotten about them. But whatever the reason is, it’s totally transparent. While trying to go for a stadium rock sound, the group sacrifices its unique qualities and the record ends up with 12 tracks that sound like slight variations of one idea, though it isn’t a bad idea.
One thing most people come to expect from the Killers is a really, really good single. "Mr. Brightside," "Somebody Told Me," "When You Were Young," "Read My Mind," "Human" and "Spaceman" are just a few of the successful hits the band has produced over the years. On "Born," however, not even the standouts come close to being worthy of a Killers’ single.
Their newest single "Runaways" takes too long to reveal itself as it lacks the upfront charm and earnestness the group is known for. There is a decent hook, but it’s buried under lyrics that make the Killers sound like a parody of themselves: "I swore on the head of our unborn child/ That I could take care of the three of us," Flowers sings over rolling guitars that sound like they were lifted from a Tom Petty record. But after a few listens, "Runaways" sticks with you and though it’s no "Read My Mind," it reluctantly does the trick.
The over-the-top theme is carried throughout the album and song after song is blended with sounds we’ve all heard before. It’s a retreat to "Sam’s Town" but lacks the character, good songwriting and production that made their second album so triumphant.
"Born"’s opener, "Flesh and Bones" is a highlight, however, and should be their next single. It soars as Flowers chants, "Cut from the cloth/ of the flag that bares the name ’Battle Born’" and "With my face flashing crimson with the fires of hell."
Towards the end of the album we get the one-two-punch of "Be Still" and the title track, "Battle Born." The former is a ballad that’s soaked in warm, floating synths and Flowers emotionally sings, "May your limits be unknown/ let your efforts be your own.../ Don’t break character/ You got a lot of heart/ Is this real or just a dream?" The latter is a guitar heavy song that straddles the line between alt country and hard rock.
Other than that, "Born" is full of cuts that don’t offer enough change to keep things interesting or compelling. It becomes difficult to distinguish one song from the other except when certain things stick out. "Deadlines and Commitments," is just a bad song, there’s no beating around the bush -- the sound is so stale and Flowers grasps at straws to pull off a macho persona. Then there’s "Miss Atomic Bomb," which has a good song buried somewhere in it, but it’s hard to get past the embarrassing recycled "Mr. Brightside" guitar riff.
The Killers can be forgiven for ditching the wonderfully dreamy sound they hammered out on "Hot Fuss," as they’ve proven themselves twice over. But it may be a little more difficult to forgive them for the bloated, lazy and ultimately boring, "Battle Born." Perhaps it’s best we just forget.