The Killers’ ‘Battle Born’: Album Review

Stephen Sears | September 18, 2012 5:35 am
A quest for musical identity has always been at the heart of The Killers‘ story. Over the last eight years, they’ve done new wave, flag-waving rock and sleek synth pop. That fourth album Battle Born (out today, ) is an ambitious machine is evident by the album’s producers, a Who’s Who of iconic rock that includes Steve Lillywhite (Morrissey), Daniel Lanois (U2), Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam), and Madonna’s disco protégé, Stuart Price.

The result of all these influences is an album that plays like a smorgasbord of The Killers’ own beefy songbook. It works best when the eras collide in one track. Album opener “Flesh And Bone” offers the band at its best. The thick arrangement is stacked with tick tock keyboards, rolling drums, arena guitars, choral backing vocals and a thrilling spoken word piece.

Battle Born‘s lyrics are, for the most part, its weak spot, pushing crass clichés of an American life that lead singer Brandon Flowers imagines us living. It’s like he’s spent the past few years replaying presidential stump speeches. The title track features this gem: “Your star-spangled heart took a train for the coast / was it blown by the wind, in the still of the night? You’re up against the wall…” When the band pairs that imagery with Springsteen-ish rock power chords, the cheese factor overwhelms. First single “Runaways” is all “Blonde hair blowin’ in the summer wind.” It’s hard to buy from the baby-faced Flowers, this working class guy-meets-girl melodrama.

The band’s frontman succeeds when he stops trying to be the Jersey guy he’s not. Sentimental ballad “Here With Me” features one of his most affecting vocals. “There’s another world you’re living in tonight,” he sings with a chill-inducing softness. “Deadlines And Commitments” offers a dose of reality, creating a new recession genre — we’ll call it The 99% — that’s quite literal. “If you should lose your way,” Flowers croons, “there is a place in this house you can stay.” The arrangement gallops, a fine marriage of synth, bass, guitar and drums. It’s fantastic.

For the most part, Battle Born is overwhelmed by captured-in-amber imagery of a white bread American fantasy. There’s a sense here that The Killers have become too insular. With each album recorded in their hometown of Vegas, they seem to be spinning in place, chasing arm-waving arena moments. That’s great in a concert setting — it binds the band and its audience together — but it doesn’t always make for challenging music. Sometimes the only way to grow up is to leave home.

The Best Song Is Not The Single (YET): Stunning album opener “Flesh And Bone” is surely in the top ten Killers tracks. And if you can’t sing along in key, you can nail the dramatic spoken bit.

Best Listened To While…: We think Flowers imagines us in a ’70s Mustang, speeding down a highway into the Nevada desert. We’re more likely playing it while stuck in traffic in our mopey 2000 Civic.

Bonus Pleasures: Anyone can see it: Brandon Flowers remains the prettiest creature in pop music. He seems to be aging in reverse — ever wide-eyed, delicate and up for a good wail.

Idolator Rating: 3/5

— Stephen Sears