The most successful British new-wave band ever to emerge from the Mojave Desert, the Killers are also a quintessential Vegas act — a gaudy triumph of pastiche and artifice. The quartet’s 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, which sold five million copies worldwide, was a slick, brash replica, complete with mild foppery and accents redolent of Anglo imports on early MTV. Their defiantly overstuffed follow-up, Sam’s Town, epitomizes Vegas in a more literal sense. The album is named for an off-Strip casino, and it often brings to mind one of the city’s not-so-glamorous institutions: the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Image-conscious as ever, the Killers are now trying to shake their pretty-boy tag. They’ve wiped off the eyeliner, put the dandy suits in storage, and submitted to a makeunder — all band members, including formerly baby-faced frontman Brandon Flowers, now sport facial scruff and dress in keeping with the Wild West theme of the real Sam’s Town. Flowers has also been publicly professing his patriotism: a newfound love of this country’s infinite skies and an affinity for no less a true-blue icon than Bruce Springsteen. These mock-Americana heroics aren’t always convincing, evidenced by lines like “We’re burning down the highway skyline / On the back of a hurricane,” from the first single, “When You Were Young,” the album’s bid for open-road grandeur (Listen to stream). It gets the anthemic surge right, if not the Boss’ underdog populism. As his cohorts channel “Born to Run,” Flowers ruefully admits that he’s over the Britpop saviors of his youth — “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus / But he talks like a gentleman / Like you imagined when you were young.”
Whatever the idiom and whomever they’re borrowing from, the Killers know only one kind of song. Everything is constructed to epic dimensions, almost according to physical laws of acceleration and propulsion. Sam’s Town is basically Hot Fuss with bigger, spanglier guitars and an all-round lack of restraint. String and brass arrangements build until there’s no top to go over. “This River Is Wild,” the most hysterical track, charges beyond Springsteen, through Queen, and smack into Meat Loaf. It’s a full-fledged, more-is-more rock opera, with a jaunty piano “Enterlude” and “Exitlude.”
But there’s no denying the brute efficiency of the hooks. “Uncle Jonny” is a cokehead’s cautionary tale (“My appetite ain’t got no heart”) that mirrors the addict’s itch with a nasty, nagging riff. “Why Do I Keep Counting?” offsets Flowers’ fear of flying with a massive sky-bound chorus (“Help me get down, I can make it”). Almost every song is in the Vegas tradition of showmen who don’t know when to say when. The Killers haven’t entirely shed the Brit-poseur image, but there’s nothing more American than their old-fashioned work ethic.| COMMENT
Now Hear This: The Killers – “When You Were Young” (Stream)