The Killers did good with Hot Fuss, their flashy debut of hooky Vegas new wave. Their look and glitzy synth tones were dialed directly into Indie ’04, and after a few years of touring and fan base swelling, they talked big about the revolutionary nature of their sophomore effort. For all its strength, Hot Fuss wasn’t any sort of grand conceptual statement, and somewhere along the way the Killers began craving grand conceptual statements. The Americana rock of Sam’s Town wasn’t an abject failure — it spawned some of the band’s best radio singles in “Read My Mind” and “When You Were Young” — but as a whole, it felt clumsy and overproduced. The live debuts of material from Day & Age seemed to hint at less studio bloat. We quickly learned that wouldn’t be entirely true.
The album’s opening three tracks are some of its brightest moments and a well sequenced start, setting a template for Day & Age’s sounds (synths, saxophones, new romantic redux) and themes: the Who Am I? (“Losing Touch“), the What Am I? (are they “Human” or are they dancer — see: Hunter. S Thompson for support), the Where Am I? (“Spaceman“). They’re on some existential shit, if expressed via typically banal prose. “They [the spacemen who abducted Brandon, that is] say the Nile used to run from East to West.” What? He seems to litter his lyrics with meaningless turns so he can avoid actually dealing with real emotion. (See that Hunter S. Thompson reference, too; Hunter was experiential, that’s how he became who he was. Flowers occasionally writes like he doesn’t have first hand experience at all.) And if you still have a slot open for America’s Rock Band, the Killers are still interested. Check the images of a “slick chrome American prince, blue jean serenade” in the swelling, orchestral, mid-album ballad break of “A Dustland Fairytale.” So they’re not over their Sam’s Town aims after all.
Actually, not by a long shot. For better and for the worst, the Killers can’t escape the clutches of their hometown. Try sitting through the cringy Vegas hotel “funk” and cheesy sax solos of “Joy Ride” (one of the most embarrassing songs of the year in any genre), and chase it with the shlocky cocktail lounge calyspo and steel drums of “I Can’t Stay.” Passable looks for dusty bars off the Strip, maybe. Here they inspire laughs. Take the bad and the forgettable (“Neon Tiger,” “The World We Live In”) with the good, though: What “Spaceman” lacks in lyrical punch it packs into its high energy, soaring synth hooks; “Human” is a successful step outside the new wave/Boss-loving mold (here a flirtation with Europop); and the galloping, infectious “This Is Your Life” does its work (but mostly because it’s a good rip of this).
There might not be a clumsy set-piece introducing their current conceit (i.e. there’s no “Enterlude” this time), but they make their overarching ambition clear with this album’s “Exitlude,” the exeunt “Goodnight, Travel Well.” It’s a sharp break from the rest of the album, sounding less like Duran Duran or Bryan Ferry than Björk (cue the “Dull Flame Of Desire” horns) and Radiohead (the second half is pure “Climbing Up The Walls”). However, cinematic exit music does not an album make. Three full-lenghts into their career, the Killers confirm their essence: a band capable of surefire radio singles, seemingly incapable of turning out a full-length without grievous missteps. They admirably, desperately want to be an outfit capable of The Great Album, but they let that ambition sink half their songs. They’re a singles band. In this day and age, that’s probably enough.
Day & Age is out 11/25 via Island.