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The Killers, ‘Day and Age’ (Island)

Hunter S. Thompson would not have liked this album. Which isn’t saying much, considering he spent the majority of his time face-up spewing vitriolic rants about these shallow kids today and their endless entitlement. “A generation of dancers,” he once seethed. And yet, this quote has inspired a boastful band from Las Vegas to bow their heads and once again make a respectably vivacious dance-rock album.

Listen: The Killers, Day and Age

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When Brandon Flowers sings, “Are we human or are we dancer?” on “Human,” Day & Age‘s stylishly spry lead single, he speaks from experience; the Killers’ first two LPs essentially split their personality. Hot Fuss (2004) introduced the boys as irresistibly tarty, retro new wavers, the best that Britain never had to offer. Sam’s Town (2006) lobbied for everyman gravitas with Americana indulgence and pseudo–Bruce Springsteen proselytizing (driven over the edge by Flowers’ new, Luxor-size ego). The sincere-sophomore-album trap has claimed countless glossy bands, but now the Killers largely rein in the excess and find a connection between their two extremes.

Opener “Losing Touch” unfolds, prophetically, with blaring saxophones and a broad David Bowie groove, establishing Day & Age‘s glam-rock core (overseen by “fifth member”/producer Stuart Price). Like Sam’s Town, every track inflates steadily to echoing heights, but the band sounds more mindful than grandiose. This is a cohesive record, even though it’s peppered with unexpected diversions; “I Can’t Stay” is sweet Tropicália with steel drums and acoustic guitar, cresting in heaps of violins and melancholy. “This Is Your Life” pulses with pop-funk swagger, layering Bobby McFerrin–style chanting over a great marching bass line.

As with the previous albums, the Killers shine on more up-tempo songs (mostly because Flowers has less time to spout nonsense). “Spaceman” is a refreshingly straightforward, probing anthem in the Hot Fuss/New Order vein, though it does permit an interlude of Flowers’ lofty inscrutability: “My global position systems are vocally addressed / They say the Nile used to run from east to west,” he intones. (Geographers, talk amongst yourselves.) This is the posturing that, when unchecked in more languid songs, derails the band’s atmospheric allure. Amid the churning piano swing of “A Dustland Fairytale,” Flowers duels for dominance with guitarist Dave Keuning’s arena-filling reverb, recycling Wild West imagery before adding, “Saw Cinderella in a party dress / But she was looking for a nightgown.” Even the Boss would have a hard time selling that one.

But when they strip down the wordy solemnity, the Killers can deliver quite a spectacle. They remain fascinated by heartland mythos, but by becoming more comfortable with their glitzy roots, they’ve actually found the pulse of something more authentic. After all, you can’t take the Vegas out of the showmen.