The last thing 2017 needed was an ode to machismo, which is why the lead single off the Killers’ brand-new record, Wonderful Wonderful, initially gave me pause. In the chorus of “The Man,” frontman Brandon Flowers brags, “I got gas in the tank/I got money in the bank/I got skin in the game/I got a household name/I got news for you, baby/You’re looking at the man.”
I fell in love with the Killers at age 11, and still love them, but do not currently possess the desire or energy to defend their missteps. Thankfully, “The Man” is pure satire—new territory for Flowers, who told Rolling Stone it’s meant as a critique of his own cockiness at the beginning of the band’s career. This musical peacocking comes complete with glitzy disco rhythms, the sound of expensive bottles poppin’, and an indulgent mid-song fake-out: “Headed to the hall of—faaaame!”
That line’s both tragic and comically self-aware, because the Killers probably aren’t headed to any hall of fame. The Las Vegas rock band’s most popular hit remains the emo-tinged “Mr. Brightside,” released on their 2004 debut, Hot Fuss. That’s not to say their later efforts haven’t been fruitful—they’ve played stadiums the world over, they’ve got legions of fans who refer to themselves as “victims,” they’ve collaborated with legends like Elton John and Lou Reed, and they’ve released five proper studio albums.
First came Hot Fuss, a horny mess of smudged eyeliner and new wave club anthems that soundtracked early 2000s teen dramas like The OC. The band’s sophomore record, 2006’s Sam’s Town, is still their most polarizing—it’s a love letter to Vegas written in the sky by Flowers, himself a former casino bellman, whose ascension is reflected in pyrotechnic arena rock inspired by the likes of U2 and Bruce Springsteen (whom Flowers considers “a prophet”).
Everything about Sam’s Town is huge, bombastic, theatrical, and glamorous—just listen to the monolithic hook of “When You Were Young” or Flowers’ drawled croon sounding like Roy Orbison at a dude ranch on tracks like “For Reasons Unknown” and “Bones.” The album’s also riddled with clichés, as on the cheesy piano ballads “Enterlude” and “Exitlude” that bookend it. Flowers didn’t help matters by informing Giant magazine that Sam’s Town would be “one of the best albums in the past 20 years.”
It’s definitely not, but it is my favorite Killers record—an explosion of hunger, angst, and other wild, surging emotions that paired well with my own adolescence. Plus, I like the misnomers and corny rhymes—they’re relatable, like being so consumed by feelings that you can’t find the right words to express them and instead say something dumb and melodramatic like “the stars are blazing like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun.”
In 2008, the Killers released the futuristic electro-pop experiment Day and Age, best known for Flowers’ mystifying lyric, “Are we human, or are we dancer?” (Apparently it’s a misquote of Hunter S. Thompson.) This was followed by the band’s midlife crisis—2012’s Battle Born, a collection of listless rock firing way too fast in too many different directions.
With Wonderful Wonderful, the Killers return to the dusty synth landscapes of Sam’s Town, but this time they’re a little humbler. “Rut” follows the bravado of “The Man” with Flowers’ desperate, Auto-Tuned plea, “Don’t give up on me/’Cause I’m just in a rut,” probably referencing Battle Born’s painful belly-flop. “Tyson vs Douglas” also captures the shock of seeing a seemingly indestructible man felled: “When I saw him go down, felt like somebody lied.”
Standout track “Run for Cover” dips a quivering pinky toe into politics—a first for the band—with the line, “He got a big smile, he’s fake news.” It’s surprising to see the Killers choosing to invoke “fake news” now, after spending the past 13 years staunchly defending their apolitical stance. It’s especially weird considering the 2012 interview where Flowers—who, as far as I know, is the only mainstream musician who’s also a practicing Mormon—told the Guardian, “I feel like a broken record, but we’re neutral. We’ve never really embraced one side or the other, or used our success to really preach like that.” If Brandon “Neutral” Flowers is now singing about fake news, we must truly have reached the end times.
He’s completely exasperating, but some part of me will always love Flowers and the rest of the Killers. Though they probably won’t be enshrined in any hall of fame, the unblushing drama and passion of their songs inspired me to try to live with the same vigor.