The Killers Are All Grown Up
The drought finally comes to an end for fans of The Killers. Five years after the release of their fourth studio album Battle Born—and after a decade of secretly jamming with Prince Harry—the Las Vegas band have unveiled the details of their upcoming record, Wonderful Wonderful. Its first two singles, “The Man” and “Run for Cover” were released a few weeks ago, offering sounds that are fresh yet familiar.
Produced by juggernauts Jacknife Lee and Erol Alkan, “The Man” sonically orbits around a distorted bassline; while synthesizers and vocoders shimmer in and out of the mix, and funky guitar scratches lurk in the background. It also features a brief but unmistakable tribute to the late David Bowie, whose alter egos were also an influence on the band’s outlandish costumes in the music video of “Spaceman.”
There’s an obvious air of swagger in the “The Man,” which vocalist Brandon Flowers presents as a lamentation for the excessive pride and self-centeredness that he and his band had in their Hot Fuss years.
In the music video, Flowers portrays the various characters that made up his younger self, all stroking the different facets of his ego: A lone trailer dweller shoots at cans with a gun; a tuxedo-clad ladies’ man lives it up at a party; an aspiring singer overperforms in a bar. As things eventually turn sour for each persona, the message of the music video—and the band's maturation—becomes clear: Arrogance and conceit are poisonous, and can turn people away.
The song's first verse opens with,“I know the score like the back my hand / Them other boys, I don’t give a damn / They kiss on the ring, I carry the crown,” dripping with hubris. How fitting for Flowers, who once believed himself to be, in his own words, “god’s gift.”
The second single, “Run for Cover” hits the ground running like a Cadillac El Dorado revving across an open highway. A lone guitar strummed fiercely is eventually reinforced by warm pads, punchy bass notes, a desolate guitar lead, and thunderous beat. By the time Flowers utters a word, the song starts to swallow its listener like the gigantic sandstorm-monster-head from The Mummy. Then the track culminates in a guitar solo, evoking the likes of A Flock of Seagulls and The Chameleons, cutting through like a flare in the night sky.
While “Run for Cover” was originally part of their Day & Age sessions, it channels the grit and rush of “When You Were Young,” from their second studio album, Sam's Town. The Killers have managed to take old pieces from their repertoire and hammered them together to craft something new and compelling.
But the band still shines the brightest when they stir up images of bittersweet nostalgia in the context of hope. “I saw Sonny Liston on the street last night / Black-fisted and strong singing ‘Redemption Song’ / He motioned me to the sky / I heard heaven and thunder cry” sings Flowers, before breaking into the chorus.
(A quick aside to explain why that particular lyric is so powerful: Sonny Liston was a big shot American boxer from the '50s to the '70s. Faithful Esquire readers need no introduction. A heavy favorite to keep the world heavyweight boxing crown from Muhammad Ali [then still Cassius Clay] in 1964, Liston took the L via technical knockout.
They faced off once more a year later, and Liston was defeated again—in two minutes and change. The way by which Liston fell baffles fans and excites conspiracy theorists until now. Ali barely landed what looked like a half-hearted counterpunch—infamously known as the Phantom Punch—on Liston’s left jaw. Liston collapsed to the canvas, rolled over, attempted to get back up, then came back down. Whether or not the K.O. was legit, Liston’s boxing career was over.
Some believe the fight was fixed, while others believe Liston intentionally lost to avoid taking a beating. You can make a case for The Killers singing from the perspective of either camp, but for now, let’s assume it's from the latter. Liston effectively ran for cover, and the vision of the pugilist singing “Redemption Song” in a dream carries with it a force strong enough to knock a thousand prizefighters out.)
When The Killers miss the mark, they tend to miss badly. But when they’re on target, it’s a sleeper every time. “Run for Cover” is a hundred percent on target. No phantom punches here.
Although musically dissimilar, “The Man” and “Run for Cover” are both big on life lessons. It seems the rest of Wonderful Wonderful will be, too. Expect themes of regret, making up for lost time, and more advice in the form of ballads and anthems.
The Killers' members are each pushing into their forties—no longer the wide-eyed hotshots they used to be, but not quite relics yet. They seem to have taken this next album as a chance to write letters to their former selves, and to show how far they've come as artists as well. If both singles are to be trusted, then Wonderful Wonderful is looking to be a great ride.
Wonderful Wonderful drops on September 22. Track List:
1. Wonderful Wonderful
2. The Man
4. Life to Come
5. Run for Cover
6. Tyson vs. Douglas
7. Some Kind of Love
8. Out of My Mind
9. The Calling
10. Have All the Songs Been Written