Brandon Flowers ruffled some feathers yesterday. In an interview with Noisey, he claimed a simple explanation for why rock music isn’t as popular as it once was: bands today simply aren’t good enough for people to care about them. Anyone who’s listened to excellent records released this year by Spoon, Sheer Mag, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and plenty of others can tell you that’s not true. But the Killers frontman almost made another, more interesting point: It’s not that today’s bands aren’t good enough, it’s that they don’t care. Listeners and industry gatekeepers are less receptive to loud and simple songs written on guitars than they used to be, yes, but also the bands writing the best ones often just aren’t interested in the kind of fame that the Killers so clearly courted from the beginning. It’s easy to imagine an alternate world in which the songwriting and performing powerhouses in Sheer Mag scrape the noise from their recordings and take over rock radio, but if a major label executive came calling, they’d likely tell him to fuck off.
The Killers have a new album, Wonderful, Wonderful, due out next month. The singles we’ve heard so far affirm them as the kind of old-fashioned rock band that unabashedly wants to fill stadiums, and have the chops and professionalism to do so. “The Man” was swaggering and Prince-like in a way that suggested they’ve been paying attention to The 1975, another band that plainly proves Flowers’ thesis wrong. (Never mind that he didn’t quite stick the landing on Matthew Healy’s trademark blend of sincerity and knowingness.) “Run For Cover” was better, the kind of Springsteen-sized electric stomper that’s been one of their calling cards ever since “When You Were Young.” (Never mind that he earnestly shouts “He’s got a big smile / It’s fake news” in the bridge.) Both of these songs aimed to hit hard. “The Man” missed, but “Run For Cover” might stand a chance at cracking the pop charts, even if The Killers weren’t already a name brand. (Hey, if Portugal. The Man can do it…)
The album’s title track, however, is something different. Released today, “Wonderful, Wonderful” is plodding, cavernous, and strange. Its chorus whipsaws up and down rather than soars, bearing some melodic resemblance to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” but surrounding Flowers’ voice with distorted drum machines and portentous orchestral sounds instead of triumphant cowboy guitar.
By the time the slashes of guitar noise and alien vocal effects arrive in the last verse, you can’t figure out whether they’ve been tripping off the fumes of Peter Gabriel or Nine Inch Nails (maybe both). There’s a perverse thrill in hearing a band that’s usually taut and laser-focused getting loose and indulgent like this, though “Wonderful, Wonderful” lacks the undeniable power of the Killers’ best songs, sounding more like a deep album cut than a single. It’s the sound of a band that’s been famous from the get-go acting like scrappy weirdos with nothing to prove.