Brandon Flowers, from Las Vegas, Nevada started the ball rolling after leaving the synthpop trio Blush Response in 2001. Having seen Oasis play in Los Angeles Brandon was smitten with the truth – he had to be in and lead a rock group: simple as that. Next in was guitarist Dave Keuning and in this early guise songs like “Mr. Brightside” and “Under the Gun” took shape. The line-up of today was completed once bass player Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vanucci, Jr. were hired and a writing spree resulted in most of the debut disc Hot Fuss taking shape. Road testing their material in local Las Vegas clubs brought them to the attention of UK based scouts who brought them to London on the strength of a five-song demo that featured “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine”, “Mr. Brightside”, “Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll”, “Somebody Told Me” and “On Top”.
The Killers combination of carefully stated retro rock and hooks befitting their name led to an Island Def Jam contract, followed by shows supporting British Sea Power, Morrissey and fellow Americans Stellastarr.
Using recordings from 2002-2003 The Killers released the debut Hot Fuss in summer of 2004 and found themselves an instant following. The Hot Fuss album and its first three singles were so brilliant that they should have won something for the five Grammy Award nominations they received. Blessed by a freshness and spontaneity that shone out everywhere Hot Fuss updated new wave and post-punk with such élan that critics found no difficulty in aligning them to greats like New Order and The Cure, Morrissey (an avowed fan), David Bowie and Lou Reed.
Attention to instrumental detail was duly noted on the many gems on offer: "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” – a modern murder ballad – the sexy “Mr. Brightside”, the Smith’s inspired “Smile Like You Mean It”, the garage power pop “Somebody Told Me”, and the vastly impressive “All These Things That I’ve Done”, whose refrain “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” became a rallying cry, one that defined them in many ways, and was enhanced by the vocal glories of the Sweet Inspirations gospel choir.
A five star classic, Hot Fuss is such a big seller that there can’t be many who haven’t come across it in some shape or form but if you haven’t then discovery is vital. Try the original of course although we love the bonus cuts and the iTunes Deluxe Edition because one can’t get enough of a good thing, which this is.
Following up an album that sold over six million copies in the UK, Europe and the US alone could have been daunting but the Killers were on such a roll that Sam’s Town took them even further. Flowers’ distinctive lyrics and voice and his increasing piano and electric keyboards skills added new depth to a disc recorded in Nevada and London with co-producers Alan Moulder and Flood keeping the sound razor contemporary. Since it was obvious by now that the band was already established, and wearing the trappings of stardom well, they could have taken a critical backlash. They didn’t because the lead single “When You Were Young” expanded their sonic ambition with a heartland sweep that nodded to Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums and topped the US Alternative Songs chart (it made #2 in the UK). One of many Killers earworm melodies “When You Were Young” was ingeniously brought to life in the video shot in Mexico, overseen by renowned director Anthony Mandler.
While the lovely “For Reasons Unknown:” slipped through the net it is another standout cut. The same applies to “Read My Mind”, a piece that Brandon still considers to be amongst his very best. The Pet Shop Boys agreed and provided a stunning “Stars are Blazing ‘mix’” with Neil Tenant and Chris Lowe adding extra vocals.
The alliance between America and Britain was cemented when Tim Burton made his directorial video debut on “Bones” and hammered home again on Sawdust, a compilation of singles, B-sides, rarities, covers and remixes recorded between 2002 and 2007. Most acts would just sleepwalk through such a project, or leave it to the company but the Killers took full control in including their Joy Division cover “Shadowplay” and, somewhat more bizarrely, Dire Straits’ intricate “Romeo and Juliet”, recorded at an Abbey Road session. This is a great disc for fans and newcomers: we’re delighted with their version of the Mel Tillis’ mid-sixties Vietnam war weepie, made legendary by Kenny Rogers, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” Genius to do this!
The third studio album is Day & Age (2008), another superior modern rock and synthpop fusion overseen now by British electronic guru Stuart Price. This new collaboration helps make the wondrous “Human” such a special song, even seven years since release. Left off the Sawdust compilation, because it was just too good, Flowers sees this as a philosophical meeting between Johnny Cash and the Pet Shop Boys, while others thought it welded New Order to Bruce Springsteen. Whatever, it’s a damn brilliant tune that doesn’t require much more elaboration, but neither should its undoubted ubiquity and dance trance heavy beat detract from what else lies within. The new wave party atmosphere of “Spaceman” and the rootsy “A Dustland Fairytale” are at such a tangent to “Human” that one is struck by Flowers’ ability to switch from universal truths to the deeply personal narrative style. That’s his skill just as much as the band written “The World We Live In’ allows them to inhabit different terrain.
Four years will elapse between Day & Age and 2012’s Battle Born (the phrase plucked from the state flag of Nevada). Solo albums and the need for family life were responsible for the break but the Killers returned with a vengeance, recording in their adopted home state and in Nashville, Tennessee. Elements of political intent are found on here although the countrified pop of “Miss Atomic Bomb” has more to do with American desert culture per se than anything more overtly sinister – that would be too easy. The older heartland love affair they specialise in lights up “Runaways” and “I Feel It in My Bones” (the latter a co-write between Flowers and Travis frontman Fran Healy).
In many ways Battle Born is the Killers most progressive and ambitious album yet: it is produced by a variety of names – Steve Lillywhite, Damian Taylor, Brendan O’Brien, Stuart Price and ambient master Daniel Lanois – but it still holds the centre. As with all their work Deluxe and Bonus editions exist.
In 2013 the second compilation Direct Hits cleaned up the past, with grand entries from the four albums and two new tracks, “Shot at the Night” and “Just Another Girl”. Understanding that a Hits set is a great way to introduce newer listeners, Flowers and company were happy with the results and we concur that this is another entry point into discovering this amazing band.
With Brandon Flowers most recent solo album, The Desired Effect, picking up where his debut Flamingo and the main act’s Battle Born left off the sense of continuity is maintained. Still in their early-30s the Killers will return soon. We can’t wait; but then we’re only human.
Words: Max Bell
The ghosts of Bono and the Boss are everywhere on the Killers’ second album, Sam’s Town. They're there in the artful, grainy Anton Corbijn photographs on the sleeve, and they're there in the myth-making of the song titles. Brandon Flowers' puppy love for Bruce fuels Sam's Town, as he extravagantly, endlessly, and blatantly apes the Springsteen of the '70s, mimicking the ragged convoluted poet of the street who mythologized mundane middle-class life, turning it into opera. the Killers sure try their hardest to do that here, marrying it to U2's own operatic take on America, inadvertently picking up on how the Dublin quartet never sounded more European than when they were trying to tell one and all how much they loved America. That covers the basic thematic outlook of the record, but there's another key piece of the puzzle of Sam's Town: it's named after a casino in the Killers' home town of Las Vegas, and it's not one of the gleeful, gaudy corporate monstrosities glutting the Strip, but rather one located miles away in whatever passes for regular, everyday Vegas -- in other words, it's the city that lies beneath the sparkling façade, the real city. Of course, there's no real city in Vegas -- it's all surface, it's a place that thinks that a miniature Eiffel Tower and a fake CBGB are every bit as good as being there -- and that's the case with the Killers, too: when it comes down to it, there's no "there" there -- it's all a grand act. Every time they try to dig deeper on Sam's Town -- when they bookend the album with "Enterlude" and "Exitlude," when Flowers mixes his young-hearts-on-the-run metaphors, when they graft Queen choirs and Bowie baritones onto bridges of songs -- they just prove how monumentally silly and shallow they are. Which isn't necessarily the same thing as bad, however. True, this album has little of the pop hooks of "Mr. Brightside," but in its own misguided way, it's utterly unique. Yes, it's cobbled together from elements shamelessly stolen from Springsteen, U2, Echo & the Bunnymen, Bowie, Queen, Duran Duran, and New Order, but nobody on Earth would have thought of throwing these heroes of 1985 together, because they would have instinctively known that it wouldn't work. But not the Killers! They didn't let anything stop their monumental misconception; they were able to indulge to their hearts' content -- even hiring U2/Depeche Mode producers Alan Moulder and Flood to help construct their monstrosity, which gives their half-baked ideas a grandeur to which they aspire but don't deserve. But even if the music doesn't really work, it's hard not to listen to it in slack-jawed wonderment, since there's never been a record quite like it -- it's nothing but wrongheaded dreams, it's all pomp but no glamour, it's clichés sung as if they were myths. Every time it tries to get real, it only winds up sounding fake, which means it's the quintessential Vegas rock album from the quintessential Vegas rock band.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
There are so many garage rock/dance-rock tunes perfectly stylized and glamorous for the pop kids in the city and in the suburbs of new-millennium America. What's nice about these the bands producing these songs is how they strive so desperately to individualize themselves. On a commercial level, they do quite well in delivering catchy pop hooks. When it comes to having actual talent, a select few actually do possess attention-worthy integrity. But there are others who don't, and they disappear from the American consciousness after a brief flirtation with success. Such theories, however, are left up to the individual music fan, so let's put that aside for a moment to experience the decadent pop world of the Killers. The Las Vegas foursome introduce a perfectly tailored new wave-induced art rock sound on their debut, Hot Fuss. They wooed MTV audiences and modern rock followers with the success of "Somebody Told Me" during summer 2004. This chunky-riffed single loaded with androgynous mystery and a dalliance with new romantic energy captures the infectious delivery of the Killers as a band. Vocalist/keyboardist Brandon Flowers does his best Simon LeBon imitation; the sex appeal and the boyish charm are perfectly in place as the rest of the band accents his rich, red-hotness just so. "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" and "Mr. Brightside" are equally as foxy as the album's first single, affirming that a formula is indeed in motion. It's hard to deny the sparkle of Depeche Mode beats and the sensual allure of Duran Duran. After 25 years, those sounds still hold up; by 2004, however, it's an incredible task to pull this kind of thing off without selling yourself to the tastes of the masses. Interpol and the Walkmen have pulled it off; Franz Ferdinand and Hot Hot Heat have potential. The difference with the Killers is that the dynamic doesn't firmly hold together. The gospel/rock jaunt of "All These Things That I've Done" doesn't quit fit around the Cure-inspired synth reveries of "Everything Will Be Alright" and "Believe Me Natalie." "Midnight Show," as much as it plucks from Duran Duran's "Planet Earth" and "Is There Something I Should Know?," does show promise for the Killers. Hot Fuss came at the right time because the pop kids needed something to savor the summer with, and "Somebody Told Me" served that purpose. Now pull out your Duran Duran records and dance like no one is watching.
Words: MacKenzie Wilson
The Killers' great gift is that they -- and in particular their frontman, Brandon Flowers -- have utterly no recognition of the ridiculous. More than that, they're drawn to the ridiculous, piecing together sounds that don't belong together, reaching far beyond their grasp, aiming for profundity and slipping into silliness. All this weighed the band down mightily on Sam's Town, their convoluted Americana theme park of a sophomore album, all false façades and paper-thin pretension, but on its 2008 sequel, Day & Age, The Killers shrink the canvas and brighten their palette, opting for a big sound over big themes. Since The Killers are at their core poseurs and not prophets, style over substance is the right move and Day & Age has style for miles and miles, exceeding even their debut, Hot Fuss, in its stainless steel gleam. If anything, Hot Fuss was a little too monochromatic in its obsession with '80s synth rock, a criticism that can hardly be leveled at Day & Age, a record that stitches together sounds with an almost blissfully idiotic abandon. Anchored in dance-rock though they may be, The Killers no longer sound like mere disciples of New Order and Duran Duran: emboldened by the left turns of Sam's Town, no matter how misguided they may have been, The Killers will try anything, goosing "Losing Touch" with growling saxophones, creating a Strokes disco for "Joy Ride," flirting with worldbeat à la Vampire Weekend on "This Is Your Life," dancing the bossa nova on "I Can't Stay," and riding a tight soulful rock & roll groove on "The World We Live In," bringing it close to a mad fusion of Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" and Hall & Oates' "Private Eyes." Like before, it's impossible to tell if such improbable juxtapositions are intentional or accidental, but given the overall tightness of Day & Age, it feels as if The Killers do indeed mean to create these odd, often pleasing, pop pastiches. And the emphasis damn well should be on the sound and melody, for Flowers remains a downright goofy lyricist, whether he's misinterpreting Hunter S. Thompson on "Human" or recounting an alien abduction on "Spaceman." Ridiculousness is much harder to stomach in words than it is in music, but the nice thing about Day & Age is that not only is Flowers' voice relatively buried, The Killers are unwittingly comfortable with their ludicrous, outsized pop, which turns the album into terrifically trashy pop. Not the serious rock they yearn to be by any means, but these fashionable threads fit them better anyway.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The great open secret about the Killers is that they only make sense when they operate on a grand scale. Everything they do is outsized; their anthems are created for fathomless stadiums, a character quirk they've grown into over the years as they've gone from scrappy wannabes fighting their way out of Las Vegas to the international superstars they've longed to be. Nearly ten years after Hot Fuss -- a decade that flashed by like a falling rocket -- the Killers aren't quite the new U2 or the Cure, to name two of their inescapable role models, but they're not Echo & the Bunnymen, either, doomed to be playing for an ever-selective audience. They are new millennium superstars, filling stadiums and flying under the radar, maintaining a popularity that justifies -- even demands -- albums as overblown as Battle Born, their fourth full-length and first to bear the stamp of the utter ease of a veteran. Unlike their three previous albums, the Killers don't necessarily have anything to prove on Battle Born: they've carved out their kingdom and now they're happy to reside within it, taking their time to ensure their palaces are overwhelmingly opulent. And Battle Born is indeed a dazzling spectacle, an inversion of the blueprint handed down from 2008's Day & Age, where the band emphasizes songs over sound. Battle Born is constructed on a smaller scale -- there are no interludes, most songs are trimmed of fat, with "From Here On Out" breezing by at under 2:30 -- but the group has internalized the sprawl of Sam's Town so they retain the wide-open spirit of the desert, not to mention the band's persistent obsession with Bruce Springsteen's mini-operas of love won, lost, and gambled. In fact, the Killers are slowly stepping away from any dance-rock trappings they once displayed, all while refusing to abandon synthesizers, which leaves Battle Born as this curious fusion of the aesthetics of 1983 applied to the roots rock of 1989; not quite so futuristic as willfully out of time. All this is reconfirmation of how the Killers exist in their own world, one that's tethered to an alternate classic rock history where Born to Run is ground zero, MTV the British Invasion, The Joshua Tree, and Sgt. Pepper's. Of course, all of this music is now far, far in the past, so it's no surprise the Killers no longer sound like kids. They're veterans at this game, a group who has been trading in these stylized, glamorized fusions for a decade, and that slightly weathered attitude is now part of the band's appeal; they're veterans that know how to use their tools, so even if the raw materials may not be quite as compelling as their earliest singles, the overall craft on Battle Born is more appealing. And if age has changed the Killers attack, it has done not a thing for Brandon Flowers as a lyricist, who remains committed to gobsmacking poetry and allusions, and cracked observations that somehow sound endearing when encased in the well-lubricated machinery of Battle Born.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Culled from a two-night stand at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London in July of 2009, the CD/DVD set Live from the Royal Albert Hall won't win over any skeptics -- the kind who may sneer at the Killers covering Joy Division, as they do rather early on here -- but the group doesn't care. They're unflappable, confident in their command, not messiahs looking to convert (a trait they managed to not take from U2) but to satiate their flock. And that does give the lengthy Live from the Royal Albert Hall -- a whopping 22 tracks on the DVD, shortened to 17 on the CD -- considerable momentum, one that flattens the excesses of Sam's Town and pumps up Day & Age, one that makes the hits from Hot Fuss sound as if they've always existed. the Killers build up a force that causes Brandon Flowers to occasionally be short of breath, but by the time he's panting on "All These Things That I've Done," he's earned it: he and his band command a large audience through plainly evident hard work.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine