After a couple side projects from lead singer Brandon Flowers, post-punk revivalists The Killers stormed back onto the scene with 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful and show no signs of slowing down. Often thought of as a highly influential band that left many imitators in their wake, their latest project sees them smartly sticking to a couple defining aspects that made them stand out from the pack and combining them with their own spin on some modern musical trends. Flowers’ rough and earnest vocal takes are now juxtaposed with shimmering and clean synthpop notes, playing into the resurgence of 80s disco sounds taking over the radio waves at the moment. Despite a couple of issues with mixing as The Killers attempt to pile as many arena-sized sounds on as possible, their knack for writing an absolute anthem hasn’t diminished at all and the band delivers some of the catchiest tunes of their career over a short but sweet 10 tracks.
The project opens with what might be its strongest track in summer single “My Own Soul’s Warning,” beginning with an atmospheric slow build as the band tunes their instruments up to Flowers’ tender vocals before the drums roll in like an avalanche and an absolutely gargantuan synth hook kicks things into high gear. The band have already said they intend for the song to open their live shows, and honestly one of the biggest shames of this pandemic is that nobody has gotten to see this happen yet. The track’s progression to a lively combination of The Killers’ driving arena rock and the syncopated synth embellishments as Flowers delivers one of his most passionate vocal performances is truly an introduction for the ages that previews the band’s new musical direction extraordinarily well. Many of the songs here lyrically frame two souls romantically becoming one as an almost divine and supernatural force, and Flowers wastes no time on the opening track screaming his lungs out longing to reunite with his other half. The strong opening run continues with the track “Blowback,” one of the most engaging sonic experiments on the album as the guitars and Flowers’ vocals take on a bit of a sliding country twang overtop a neon cascade of synth notes. Accompanied by some fantastic vocal harmonies and a southern rock piano that creeps up into the mix by its end, the track fades out with an angelic choral section. The track “Dying Breed” is a masterful slow build, drawing out tension with extended notes and a simple bassline for over two minutes as Flowers calmly introduces the track’s hooks, most of them taken up by the instrumental as the satisfying payoff of the whole band roaring in finally drops, reaching its peak before briefly dropping back to the beginning textures.
The Killers begin to get a little overzealous with their wall of sound techniques and cross over into some muddy mixes with the lead single “Caution,” a track about the itch to get out of the place where you grew up. One of the more structurally straightforward tracks, the song essentially aims to take a shortcut to the soaring and euphoric moments that the opening tracks earned with much more build-up. This track shifts gears immediately, jumping up to a loud verse and then a ridiculously loud chorus without warning as the rapidly strummed guitars and blaring synth tones cascade over each other and jostle for position. The legendary Lindsey Buckingham shows up at the end of the track for a frantic guitar solo that would have sounded great just about anywhere else but only succeeds at adding more confusion to the blown-out mix. The track “Fire in Bone” is really the only other miss on the album for similar reasons, the band’s attempt at a stuttering, minimal bluesier angle not hiding the weaker patches in Flowers’ vocals as much as a massive rock tune does while their experimental play with volume levels goes completely off the rails with some messy timing.
Speaking of Buckingham, The Killers handpicked a couple other perfect and somewhat surprising guests in the form of an iconic vocalist and a current indie darling. The one and only k.d. lang appears on the track “Lightning Fields,” one of the most stunning odes to the power of romance here that tells the story of Flowers’ parents. Lang embodies Flowers’ mother, who passed away due to cancer, reassuring his father from the beyond that everything will be alright. After all, they have forged a spiritually everlasting bond. Over a slightly disorienting combination of piano flourishes and rumbling bass notes that represents Flowers’ father’s dream sequence, everything comes together in an uplifting chorus when he catches a glimpse of his wife. The lyrical dramatics of their emotional reunion combined with the band’s swelling and bright instrumentation makes for a truly powerful musical moment. The critically acclaimed Weyes Blood appears on the track “My God,” one of the more memorable choruses here as she provides some almost operatic backing vocals to a pop-oriented melody and elevates it to the divine and anthemic place the band aims for.
The strong songwriting continues as the album winds down. The track “Running Towards A Place” features a production credit from one of the best in the business in Ariel Rechtshaid, a noted superfan of the musical stylings of Fleetwood Mac that The Killers brush up against over the course of this project. One of the most overt lyrical depictions of a spiritually everlasting love, most of the song actually seems to be describing the scene depicted on the album cover, as a ghostly couple shoots across the sky hand in hand. “When the Dreams Run Dry” is what happens when a surprise massive chorus, Flowers straining his vocal cords to their limits, is earned. The band builds up the textures of the track with some of their quirkier percussion choices before he once again bellows his profound relief in finding someone to persevere through the trials of life with. The album closes with its title track, a final story of the improbable odds that Flowers and his wife met due to their different backgrounds set to some of the most cheerful and bright tones on the project.
Another review and another veteran act partially reinventing themselves while maintaining a perfect amount of the essence that makes them a special force in music. The Killers’ songwriting has already granted them a couple of classic tunes that have stood the test of time, and there are probably a couple more on this one.
Favourite Tracks: My Own Soul’s Warning, Dying Breed, Lightning Fields, Blowback, My God
Least Favourite Track: Caution