“What are you made of?” roars Brandon Flowers as the Killers sing “flesh and bone!” in powerful unison. The guitar line bigger than a Las Vegas casino, the ambition flowing out like the hopeful punters hitting for the big time. It’s always been this way though for Flowers. His theatre of Killers isn’t so much second nature to him as pulsing through his blood; you almost expect him to bellow ‘Born to Run’ out of those powerful vocal chords of his.
Whilst theatre is entertaining however, the band have plenty of making up to do. Since the ‘Day and Age’ times at the turn of the decade; the least well received Killers record to date, an increasing amount of skeptics had begun to wonder if the days of noughties standout ‘Mr. Brightside’ would ever come back around as the band seemingly vanished and lead singer Brandon Flowers created a lackluster record of nearly-good tracks. The issue here though is just that. Bands change as their influences do, as the people they’re surrounded by bring different sounds to their musical palettes, as they grow up and adapt. In the Killers’ case, whilst their propensity for the stadium sound and their belief in a certain form of breed of American music all remains, they’ve lost that edge that made them an enjoyable. Everything that put them on the iPods of the masses has been lost to an ambition to be almost as dull as the Nevada desert whilst waving surrender at the American dream and everything Springsteen still plays with more heart than any beat of ‘Battle Born’ will ever exude.
Whilst it opens well, from there you can listen to the whole thing in one continuous stream of average monotony. The likes of ‘A Matter of Time’ have the kind of haunting power behind them that makes the Killers still feel like they could be an epic band. But from there, tracks such as ‘Deadlines and Commitments’ are borderline embarrassing in their monotony and even ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’, which would have had a huge pulsing line going through it, comes off as wet and deeply uninteresting.
‘Battle Born’ then, is ‘Flamingo’ (Flowers’ solo record) meets the B-sides of ‘Sawdust’ to ‘Day and Age’ with none of the naive schadenfreude pop belters of ‘Hot Fuss’ and even less of the romantic yet powerful narrative of ‘Sam’s Town’. The Killers, then, seem doomed to have created two hugely successful and acclaimed records and at least two deeply average ones that, had it not been for their predecessors, almost no one would ever buy. That’s a shame, because the theatre of Flowers was always an entertaining one.
‘Battle Born’, the fourth album from Las Vegas band the Killers, is out now on Mercury.