It’s been over a decade since The Killers first stormed the charts with their slick, new wave-indebted indie anthems. Having kept a low profile since the tour for 2012’s ‘Battle Born’ wrapped up, they’ve recently returned to the live arena and reports have finally been confirmed that a new album is in the works. In anticipation, we take a look back at the synth rock foursome’s ten most essential offerings – brought to you by way of fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.
The song that launched a thousand indie discos. Legend has it this was the first song ever written by the band, when guitarist Dave Keuning brought a recording of the now iconic-riff to frontman Brandon Flowers, who was so impressed it prompted him to write the chorus and finish off the rest of the track in no time at all. A perfect modern rock single and their most enduring hit, it’s a fervid, stream-of-consciousness ode to unrequited love that you still shout along with – as if the lyrics mean everything to you – every time it comes on. Admit it, you do.
A long-lasting fan favourite and staple of their live sets, the opening gambit on their classic debut ‘Hot Fuss’ recounts the story of a police interrogation, backed by a propulsive bassline – allegedly inspired by The Smiths’ ‘Barbarism Begins at Home’ – and siren-blast synths. Flowers pleads and wails in his fake British accent as if trying to be heard over the urgent, clanging guitars, whilst the protagonist refuses to succumb to the good cop/bad cop treatment. It’s a ballsy introduction to the band – and, tragically, we never do find out what happened to poor Jenny.
All These Things That I’ve Done
“I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier”, Flowers chants along with a gospel choir on this life-affirming anthem’s refrain. The song’s sloganeering attracted some ridicule at the time of its release, but it went on to become a spontaneous, unofficial motto for the whole Live 8 campaign following the band’s early afternoon slot. The emotional centrepiece of ‘Hot Fuss’, it’s perhaps the earliest hint of the world-beating, larger-than-life quality The Killers’ subsequent records would become known for.
Essentially the mission statement from The Killers Mk II, this was the moment where they truly traded in the pastel blazers and neon lights of ‘Hot Fuss’ for the double denim and dusty roads of ‘Sam’s Town’. No longer content with singing about boyfriends that look like girlfriends, with the epic ‘Bling (Confession of a King)’, they turned their sights to something much higher stakes: fending off the devil to find their “glory in the desert rain”. Swinging for the fences for four straight minutes; its stadium rock of biblical proportions – with a climax that makes ‘The Joshua Tree’ seem small time.
Read My Mind
One of the few quite, reflective moments on ‘Sam’s Town’, the nostalgic ‘Read My Mind’ recounts an age old story of “breaking out of this two-star town”. Awash with warm keyboards and jangling guitars, Flowers’ voice trembles and soars in equal measure as he issues a vulnerable, heartfelt plea to his lover (“I don’t mind if you don’t mind, ‘coz I don’t shine if you don’t shine”, he repeatedly admits, coyly). Melding their early new wave influences with an Americana twist, this Pet Shop Boys-meets-Tom Petty love song even managed to win over those who weren’t otherwise taken by their abrupt change in direction.
Carried equally by Ronnie Vannucci’s hard-hitting, hip-hop flavoured drums and an orchestra of buzzing, hazy synths, ‘Sweet Talk’ is the biggest smash hit single they never released. Instead, it’s tucked away on their gathering of B-sides and offcuts ‘Sawdust’ – but those who do take the time to seek it out with be rewarded with a euphoric, dreamy gem of a track, and its breakdown still ranks amongst their most affecting moments.
The standout of their most playfully outlandish record – 2008’s ‘Day and Age’ – ‘Spaceman’ is a Ziggy Stardust via Duran Duran tale of alien abduction-turned-redemption. Uplifting, futuristic, and featuring some of Flowers’ most wilfully goofy lyrics (“my global position systems are vocally addressed/they say the Nile used to run from east to west”), it’s the closest the band have ever come to straight synthpop.
Another choice cut from the underrated ‘Day and Age’, ‘This Is Your Life’ sees the band melding their familiar U2 influence of shimmering guitars and galloping basslines with experimental, African chant-like vocal samples. Lyrically though, it’s all classic Killers, as they offer gentle words of encouragement to a young down-and-out girl named Jackie: “wait for something better,” Flowers pleads, “you know I’m on your side.”
Since its release, their hit-and-miss fourth record ‘Battle Born’ has been levelled with the criticism that – a few times too often – it shot for Springsteen but ended up more like a cheesy Meat Loaf parody. They hit it out of the park with this fist-clenching ballad, though, as they recount driving through the desert listening to Elvis after a breakup. Featuring a tasteful, understated arrangement from the whole band and one of Flowers’ most powerhouse vocal performances, this is the song that signalled The Killers had finally come of age.
Shot at the Night
A collaboration with M83’s Anthony Gonzalez, the lead single from the band’s Direct Hits compilation is in many ways the quintessential Killers track: glitzy and modern, but with an earnestness and retro sensibility (check out that 80s arpeggiator and reverb-heavy Phil Collins snare) that have always been their hallmark. With its expansive, cinematic feel, twinkling synths and world-beating chorus, it’s the perfect soundtrack to exploring the wonders of Vegas after dark – as its music video attests to.
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