Today’s official release of Battle Born, the first studio album from The Killers in four years, is in itself an exercise in beating the odds. A band that many had already written off as obsolete after less than decade, a band who plays big, overstated music in a time when understatement is “in”? By most accounts, this record should not have been made, let alone expected to do well.
But as Han Solo said: “Never tell me the odds.” Not only is Battle Born one of the better records of The Killers’ career, but I expect that it is going to resonate with a lot of music lovers, to the chagrin of the critics, who will find plenty of the same stuff on this record that they have criticized on The Killers’ previous work.
True enough, kudos have been difficult for The Killers to come by since their breakout record Hot Fuss was released in 2004. Back then, their bigger-than-life, emotive blend of Euro-dance with Springsteen-esque rock sounded different than anything else out there, and it hit a nerve with audiences. But while The Killers’ sound didn’t change all that much, times changed quickly around them. After a couple more records received tepid responses from critics, the band went on hiatus, and many assumed they wouldn’t be back.
But there’s something the analysts and the critics didn’t count on. People still have hearts, and they still resonate with music that speaks on that level–and this record has that in spades. From the opening track “Flesh and Bone”, the music itself carries the listener to an emotional place that much of today’s cerebral music fails to touch. Stylistically, The band’s overstated, sometimes melodramatic, increasingly Springsteenish sound may cut against the grain of what is happening in indie rock—but at the end of the day, this is music of the heart, not the head. With Battle Born, The Killers have dug deep, and dug their heels in the Vegas dirt, doggedly determined to continue being the band they were born to be, except with the passion of their early days rekindled. The end result is that they have produced a record that is honest, accessible, and very, very relatable—not to mention it’s just plain good music.
This isn’t to say the band hasn’t evolved from the early days. While The Killers seem to have no intention of following current trends, style-wise this record gravitates away from their dance-pop elements and more toward a blue-collar rock feel (except with plenty of synth). When it comes to Brandon Flowers’ vocal and writing styles, comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are increasingly unavoidable—and that may admittedly be a negative more than a positive. Nevertheless, it is a rare note Flowers sings that is not filled with passion, and that makes the music believable.
Thematically, the record walks on familiar ground (relationships, hardships, relationships and hardships), frequently telling tales of love and loss that most people have felt at one time or another. Exhibit A: the record’s first single “Runaways” (“We got engaged on a Friday night / I swore on the head of our unborn child / That I could take care of the three of us / But I got the tendency to slip when the nights get wild / It’s in my blood”). In similar fashion, “Here With Me” deals with the pain of regret and lost love, while “The Way It Was” asks for a rekindling of passion. You get the idea; it’s not new, but it is relatable, even timeless.
After a strong first few tracks, Battle Born gets just a little bit lost in the middle with a few of its more forgettable songs. But it fully recovers at the end with “Be Still” and the anthemic title track, which in my opinion is one of the strongest on the record.
I have no doubt that reviews of this record will be mixed, if for no reason than the fact that The Killers’ dramatic sound naturally attracts criticism from those who think they know the popular trends. But don’t miss the point about this band. This is not small-venue indie rock; it’s arena rock for a new millennium, filled with the large sounds and raw pathos that helped define rock and roll in the first place. Fans of The Killers will find plenty to love about Battle Born, as will fans of heartfelt rock and roll in general.
The Killers are back. It’s that simple.