The Killers - Battle Born

So let’s dispatch two facts real quick. First, contrary to earlier reports, there is no seven-and-a-half-minute rock epic titled “The Slot Tech.” Second, yeah, it’s been nearly one full Olympiad since the last Killers full-length. Not that the boys have been dormant: In the interim there was a live album, a Christmas EP, two solo records, and one side project. But it’s business time again — the album cover’s custom-van fresco aside — and there’s nary a smile to be found on Battle Born, which shares a name with the band’s studio and a motto on Nevada’s flag. If such a battle was held, the forces of arena-sized wanderlust won out.

There’s no way getting around it: The Killers are approaching some kind of cliché event horizon. The body they’ve built here is fully stocked: eager eyes, hungry hearts, licked lips, and the belly of the beast. They’re as committed to those wild girls, carefree boys, and the endless restless nights of youth as Steinman/Loaf ever were. Breathing room is at a premium, with track after track dispatched with dutiful efficiency. The occasional addition of strings (as on “Miss Atomic Bomb” and “Here With Me”) is typical rock reflexivity, just another sonic smear. Far from serving as a modernizing gesture, the renewed use of synthesizers actually harks back to transitional U2 or peak-viability Springsteen. (The synths do provide the only real swing on the album, which is riddled with the usual martial rhythms and “Heat Of The Moment”-style breakdowns.)

Still, the widescreen yearning Brandon Flowers and company have made their métier has its place, and if you’ll pardon this cliché, Battle Born has the feel of a splendid road-trip record. It’s an accumulation of grandiosity. After all, with the exception of singles like “All These Things That I’ve Done” and “When You Were Young” (the latter of which is essentially Battle Born’s thematic template), the Killers’ arrangements rarely meet the excitement of Flowers’ self-fulfilling sincerity. Dave Keuning chips in a fantastic solo on “The Rising Tide,” and the sequencing on standout chugger “Deadlines And Commitments” gets the closest to a groove. The uptempo country-rock song “From Here On Out” (which packs quarterback smiles, paradigm shifts, and the Danger Zone within a 15-second span) is the sole cut that doesn’t push or break the four-minute mark, so despite sounding like Tom Petty circa 1990, it probably has no chance at radio.

Like the endless party of Andrew WK or black metal’s unholy woods, there’s something perversely noble about the Killers’ employment of every wild-child trope. Meat Loaf made his bones with priapic landmarks of teenage desire and rock and roll-fueled megalomania; the Killers’ vocab is that of a guidance counselor trying to connect with a stadium-sized school. Flowers is on record saying that recording in their home state invigorated the writing process, but aside from a reference to the Esmeralda County line on “The Way It Was,” very little here is localizing. They’re the pre-eminent Vegas-born act (unless Imagine Dragons gets their act together), but there’s not a neon tube to be seen on Battle Born. One could be generous and call this a Western record, tossing out sanded-down guitar snarl and Ronnie Vannucci, Jr.’s midtempo, road-hypnosis-inducing tom work.

The album closes with the title track, a five-minute anthem of survival containing some of Flowers’ most awkward melodic leaps and delightfully trad harmonized responses. (“Your boys have grown soft / And your girls have gone wild,” he sings, sounding for all the world like an evangelical masculinist.) The last minute is reserved for wordless, devotional sighs and synth arpeggiation. Through this crack in their signifying armor, you can see their pounding ecumenical heart. Smiles are for B-sides. The Killers have a kingdom to build.

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Comments (23)
  1. after a summer of disappointments (swing lo magellan, coexist) and trying to decode centipede hz, i’ll take a heaping spoonful of this mindless fluff no problem.

  2. “Anthem.” … That’s what really grinds my gears, Diane. Not every big, 5 minute + song is an “anthem”. It’s just a long song that tries to be larger than it is. Which usually winds up being a flop.

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  4. The Killers have become that really over the top action movie that despite its silliness, still manages to be a welcomed form of entertainment in the midst of less accessible pieces of art. There’s nothing wrong with winding down to some Con Air after you just watched a David Lynch marathon. There will always be room in my library for both. Sure, I doubt Brandon Flowers would agree with his band being characterized as a film with the line “put dahh bunny in dahh box,” but The Killers are much more easily digestible as a “let your hair down, relax, and enjoy the ride” type of experience.

  5. MAYBE IT’S an album so EXCELLENT, WE just don’t UNDERSTAND it yet or some similar KIND OF room-for-back-peddling-SHIT.

  6. Classic resonating first album appeal that slowly dwindles by the album into meat grinder pop when the bands ideas have evaporated. Record company that bit the hook early when they saw the dollar signs now realize 2 in on a 5 album deal that they’re horrid and scramble to cut bait by releasing (more) live albums slash greatest hit compilations. Drummer then develops an eating disorder from too much coke intake before lead singer decides he’s smarter than all and goes solo which results in flop of an album that sends one song into top 100 (right near The Frays lates single) then….poof….he’s gone only to either catch a lucky seat on an x-factor panel or worse…Vegas. Or, this all may very well have already happened. I checked out after Sam’s Town.

  7. Tired of doing his pseudo-Bruce Springsteen shtick, Brandon Flowers tries on his best Meat Loaf impression.

  8. Again, I think if you can get past the cliched lyrics, there is some good stuff here. It’s the Killers attempt at a “great American rock album” and while no masterpiece, it’s a lot better than Day and Age and sounds great through a car stereo. It’s a fun record that works well with the end of summer.

  9. This album is boring, bland, and devoid of energy. The first 2 songs are strong, but afterwords, it just hits a brick wall. Theres no substance and consistency like Hot Fuss or Sam’s Town. Day and Age was conveyed changed, but it was done right. This has nothing memorable to cling to aside from the actual single. And yes, I am a Killers fan, but Brandon’s solo album was much better than this. The reason why Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town holds up is due the energy an grandiose nature of the songs. Its understandable that Brandon has a fetish for Bruce Springsteen and it really shows, but the problem with Battle Born is that it has no identity. I put on Hot Fuss after playing Battle Born and every track is enjoyable. For Battle Born, I have to cherry pick which isn’t a good sign for a band that has proven to write well structured songs and catchy hooks. Overall, huge disappointment.

    • This pretty much sums it it. Granted I’ve only listened to the album twice through, nothing really sticks or perks my interest when I’m listening to it. I miss the catchiness.

  10. We gonna get that Cruel Summer evaluation before the weekend?

  11. If you can believe it the State of Nevada has much more to offer than ‘neon tubes.’ This is an extremely Nevada record, more specifically a Las Vegas record, EVEN MORE specifically a Henderson record. Living in Nevada is both more normal and far stranger than you can imagine and this record (like Sam’s Town) captures that strange dichotomy really well. Just because every song isn’t about Showgirls and Blackjack dealers doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to do with living in Las Vegas (which, I have to point out, is a city situated dead center in the West, so saying it’s a Western record and not a Las Vegas record doesn’t make much sense.

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