Music

The Killers: Day & Age

With the release of the Killers’ latest album, Day & Age, the obvious question is: will Flowers and company continue to chase the panoramic, mythic grandeur of Springsteen and U2, critics be damned?


The Killers

Day & Age

Label: Island
US Release Date: 2008-11-25
UK Release Date: 2008-11-24
Amazon
iTunes

Before the release of the Killers’ sophomore album, 2006’s Sam’s Town, Brandon Flowers predicted that it would be “one of the best albums of the last 20 years". For a band that left many feeling they had not earned their spurs before achieving superstardom, the comment was an irresistible invitation to pummel Flowers for artistic hubris. And many critics did just that, especially since Sam’s Town -- while containing some undeniable classics -- was an uneven affair, capturing the band juggling diverse influences, sometimes to awkward effect.

Flowers’ excitement, however, was understandable. He was under the spell of Springsteen and U2, and the band tried, quite obviously, to create the same epic intensity in the songs on Sam’s Town. The two “hits” from the album, “When You Were Young” and “Read My Mind”, succeeded in evoking that feeling of epiphany that the Boss and Bono specialize in, that feeling of transcendence that one only experiences in fleeting moments at Mass or when falling in love or, well, when drunk and loading up the jukebox.

And yet, Flowers was still faulted for mixing his metaphors and gushing like a schoolgirl and managing to sound only like the young Springsteen, the one who confused verbosity with profundity. But so what if, technically, you couldn’t burn down the highway skyline if you were riding on a body of water? That was a kick-ass tune! And can you really fault a guy for trying to share his epiphany with the masses? Saul of Tarsus did the same, and he was canonized.

So with the release of the Killers’ latest album, Day & Age, the obvious question is: will Flowers and company continue to chase the panoramic, mythic grandeur of Springsteen and U2, critics be damned? Or, having experienced the sting of critical backlash, will they play it safe and make a collection of those dance floor ditties they seem to churn out with ease?

The answer isn’t quite so easy. On the surface, the answer would seem to be that the Killers are retreating from their epic ambitions and heading for safer ground. Those the-whole-world-depends-on-this-moment lyrics are largely missing, as are those majestic climaxes and crescendos that were everywhere on Sam’s Town. Indeed, Day & Age is an album devoid of pomposity, both lyrically and sonically. That’s not to say the album doesn’t have its climactic moments -- the completely sublime “A Dustland Fairytale” has all of those qualities -- but they’re certainly fewer.

Flowers seems to concede as much in the first single from the album, “Human”. “Give my regards to soul and romance,” he sings, “They always did the best they could.” Is this an admission that all that lyrical loftiness was misguided? Or is this just a nonsense line, such as the lines “Are we human? / Or are we dancer?”, which, apparently, are a reference to Hunter S. Thompson?

To say, however, that Flowers and the Killers cowered artistically would not only be a complete mischaracterization, it would also miss the point entirely. The inescapable conclusion is this: Day & Age is the most consistent, confident album the Killers have created so far. While there are just as many influences floating through this album as there were on Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town, they have finally congealed into a unified whole.

To be sure, there are traces of Low-era Bowie, the Cure, the Talking Heads, the Jam, and even Roxy Music, but there aren’t any songs here that sound like painfully-calculated imitations of a specific band. Instead, three albums into their career, the Killers have finally digested their influences and settled into their own sound. So, if anything, this is the quartet’s boldest album, seeing them finally step out from behind their record collection and asserting themselves as a creative force.

While the Killers have always straddled the muddy line between a “dance” band and a “rock” band (the thin distinction warrants the quotation marks since rock music was always intended to be dance music), Day & Age definitely sees them leaning towards the former. In place of the acute intensity the band aimed for the last time around is groove, pulse, and –- dare it be said -– funk.

“Joy Ride”, for example, begins with a galloping bassline reminiscent of Roxy Music’s “The Space Between” before settling into a dance track that actually manages to sound soulful, thanks to some well-placed saxophone. Yes, saxophone –- and it appears throughout the album, such as on the opener “Losing Touch”, which also sounds like it emerged from that late '70s/early '80s period that was trying to combine the often competing ethos of disco, punk, and soul.

Elsewhere, it sounds like the boys have been listening to that rather vaporous genre known as world music. The most obvious proof of that is “I Can’t Stay”, the song that will, without doubt, elicit the most head scratches. If you’ve ever wondered what the Killers would sound like as the house band on a Carnival Cruise Line, this is your answer. Once the initial “WTF?” moment passes, the song is actually an enjoyable, breezy little ditty. Utterly disposable, yes, but that’s part of its charm.

The bulk of the album, though, sees the Killers doing what they do best: crafting new wave dance songs that sound like lost classics from the '80s. “Spaceman”, “Neon Tiger”, and “Human” are all worthy of a John Hughes soundtrack, had they been written 25 years earlier. Synthy, poppy, and often touching, they are all irresistible pop confections.

For those, however, who love the dreamy-eyed Brandon Flowers and yearn for those overpowering moments, don’t despair. Flowers just can’t help himself when it comes to certain themes, and on “A Dustland Fairytale” he crafts yet another tale of young suitor-as-Messiah, swooping down to rescue a naïve maiden, only to reveal later that, yes, he is nothing but a man with faults. Flowers sets the scene by describing a “slick chrome American prince” and a “blue jean serenade” before crying “'Moon River’, what did you do to me?” As the song reaches its emotional summit, it’s decades later and the couple is desperately trying to keep the fire alive: “Cinderella don’t you go to sleep… don’t you know the kingdom’s under siege?”

And this is what makes the Killers so endearing, despite all their faults as a band. Their affection for everything they pour into their music, from the million and one musical influences to the shameless lyrical homages to the awkward literary references, is so sincere it can’t help but be charming.

So yes, Brandon... we are dancer.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.