Following a lengthy five-year break that saw bassist Mark Stoermer return to college, drummer Ronnie Vannucci continue with his side-project Big Talk and frontman Brandon Flowers find unexpected critical acclaim with his joyous 80s pop pastiche ‘The Desired Effect’, The Killers have finally returned with their fifth studio album, the Jacknife Lee-produced ‘Wonderful Wonderful’.
Despite being labelled by the quartet during pre-release interviews as the closest thing they’ve done since 2006’s loud, guitar-driven fan favourite, ‘Sam’s Town’, their latest offering is perhaps their most ballad-heavy set so far. Adversity and personal struggles take centre stage throughout, replacing the neon tigers and spacemen of old with ruminations on Flowers’ own life; his wife’s battles with depression (‘Rut’), as well as his own insecurities about how he is perceived by both the public (‘The Man’) and his kids (‘Tyson vs Douglas’) are all placed under the microscope throughout the album’s ten tracks.
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‘Wonderful, Wonderful’, then, is very much a songwriter’s record; if 2012’s earnest ‘Battle Born’ was the frontman’s take on embracing adulthood, then this follow-up is an unabashed celebration of the responsibilities and family life that comes with it.
The album begins with the ambitious title track, which is possibly the biggest departure taken by the band in recent memory. A sprawling, sinister indie rock sermon on the mount about “dancing for rain/with your doll by the drain”, the music is anchored by a winding, low-slung bass groove and tribal drums that recall Jane’s Addiction’s more spiritual offerings.
The bottom-heavy Bowie-esque disco stomp of lead single ‘The Man’ soon brings us back to familiar territory, though – as do the airy, synth-laden power ballad ‘Rut’ and the jittery ‘Run for Cover’, the latter of which recalls the lean post-punk of their seminal debut ‘Hot Fuss’.
Elsewhere, ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ is the most unabashedly Killers song on the record and a surprise standout track; a fiery slab of power pop that uses one of the sporting world’s most famous falls from grace as a metaphor for human fallibility. “When I saw him go down, it felt like somebody lied”, Flowers howls breathlessly over a pounding drivetime rock bassline and icy synths, while guitarist Dave Keuning – who rather worryingly is only credited as performing on six of the record’s songs – gets a rare chance to shine with one of his familiar biting, angular solos.
‘Out of My Mind’, meanwhile, is a gloriously retro synthpop number that sees Flowers namedrop his heroes-turned-friends Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen in an attempt to impress his lover, which could have been lifted straight from ‘The Desired Effect’.
In fact, there’s a feeling permeating ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ that we may have finally reached peak Brandon Flowers. Every album so far has contained a few of his trademark clunkers, but they’re so ingrained into the band’s identity at this point – “are we human, or are we dancer” to name a famous example – that fans would almost miss them if they weren’t there.
So when he’s not repeatedly imploring the listener to “drop-kick the shame” during the defiant stadium rocker ‘Life to Come’ (another endearingly giddy highlight that, despite a few cheesy couplets, almost dares you not to punch the air), he’s wasting no time posing the question “motherless child, does thou believe/
that thine afflictions have caused us to grieve?” in the album’s opening moments.
And that’s without even mentioning the so-bad-it’s-good “Baby, I’m gifted/you see what I mean/USDA certified lean” from the lead single’s second verse – throughout the course of the record, it becomes noticeable that one of Flowers’ most overlooked gifts is his constant ability to sell lines that would easily fall flat if not for sheer force of willpower and self-belief.
While overall a solid effort, the album suffers from the same issue as ‘Hot Fuss’; namely, being too front loaded for its own good, with later tracks feeling like afterthoughts. ‘The Calling’, for example, begins with Woody Harrelson – yes, really – reciting bible passages before turning into a repetitive, awkward attempt at ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ era Depeche Mode blues rock that doesn’t really mesh with anything else here.
In addition, the meandering ‘Have All the Songs Been Written?’, which takes its title from that of an email exchange between Flowers and U2’s Bono during a period of writer’s block, brings the record to a close in underwhelming fashion, seeming lyrically forced and generally superfluous on a set of songs already stuffed with unhurried ballads. Bonus track ‘Money on Straight’, however, is a charming, breezy little number that should have made the album, which sees Flowers impart some journeyman wisdom (“don’t forget where you come from/who your friends are/and all that shit”) over a bed of weary acoustic guitars and twinkling keys.
Due to its relatively experimental sound and diversity of styles – the album seems to delight in handpicking sounds from the band’s previous eras, while occasionally adding new influences to the mix – listeners are sure to find a lot to enjoy over the course of ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, even if some fans may find the consistently middling tempo and lack of immediacy harder to grasp than earlier efforts.
After a half-decade wait, though, most of the The Killers faithful will just be glad to have them back.
The albums full track-listing is as follows…
01 Wonderful Wonderful
02 The Man
04 Life to Come
05 Run for Cover
06 Tyson vs. Douglas
07 Some Kind of Love
08 Out of My Mind
09 The Calling
10 Have All the Songs Been Written