The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of The Killers
For someone who checks out album release dates weeks, sometimes even months in advance, I remember my stunned surprise a while back when I saw that The Killers were releasing another full length LP. This was partly because I was under the impression that The Killers had hung up their spurs for good and partly because Brandon Flowers had a commercially successful solo album come out less than a year ago. However, the main reason I was stunned, was because a new Killers album in 2012 seemed so strange to me. I remember the utter explosion of Hot Fuss and the larger than life singles, “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me.” I remember the much-hyped Sam’s Town and even the under-the-radar nature of Day and Age. All Killers’ albums were essentially the same; mega singles surrounded by forgettable filler. But when you’re a commercial outfit like The Killers, that’s really all you need. You live by the single, you die by the single. When “Spaceman” and “Human” failed to match the relentless airplay of “Read My Mind” and “When You Were Young,” The Killers and Brandon Flowers faded into antiquity.
The reason their appearance in 2012 jarred me so was because they seemed like the quintessential 2000s band. Their three major releases were spaced out evenly in 2004, 2006 and 2008 for the perfect aughts existence. Seeing them pop up again in 2012 felt about as right as a Flock of Seagulls album in the mid 90s (which I realize did actually happen, but you get the point). I couldn’t help but listen to Battle Born and get a bit of a cheap laugh at its ludicrous cover. The whole while, I kept wondering how a band went from being so big and so hot to be so emphatically over-the-hill in such a short span of time. All of the usual elements of Killers’ songs are there on Battle Born; Brandon Flowers’ vocals give it the old college try and always find one octave too high, the overuse of the words “devil,” “river,” and “hell,” and the pseudo-dance not quite rock instrumentations. Don’t me wrong, I loved The Killers. I thought Hot Fuss was excellent, was slightly disappointed in Sam’s Town’s over ambition (like everyone, but felt some of the songs on Day and Age were as good as anything they have done. So why now, with the formula virtually unchanged, do I find myself entirely uninterested with a Killers album?
It’s just that they sound so helplessly out of date. You wouldn’t think that the music scene had changed that much from 2004 to 2012, but when you hear a Killers song off of Battle Born, it sounds about as contemporary as something off of Achtung Baby, and not in a revivalist or even intentional sort of way. Every beat they use feels awfully recycled from any stadium power rock ballad of the past thirty five years. The band who was once seen as the crossovers and the barrier-breakers are now going on what feels more like a Stones reunion tour than a promotional outing for a new album. It’s sad to see time pass them by so violently, but that’s the way it goes.
I don’t find the story of The Killers to be entirely uncommon. Many bands find their niche within a certain decade and the fizzle into obscurity by the end of their career. The irony I see here is that almost all of The Killers’ songs seem to focus on this very theme. The cover of Sam’s Town alone screams messages of “faded glory.” Almost every single feels as if it was somehow foreshadowing this very event. “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me” offer up helpings of self-deprecation and embarrassing sentiments for the vocalist. “All These Things That I’ve Done” laments the struggles of aging. Do I even need to explain “When You Were Young?” I can’t help but wonder if all of these songs that expressed sorrow at the passing of time and the inevitability of past accomplishments diminishing played a part in some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy for the Vegas rockers. Isn’t it a crazy notion to think that all these songs that they’ve written over the years have ended up being about themselves? Disagree? You don’t think that the next time The Killers strike up “When You Were Young,” it will carry a completely different all too real connotation?