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The Killers

+ {Brandon Flowers} + {Big Talk}

Glitzy gambling capital of the USA, Las Vegas could hardly be described as the epicentre of the alt-rock music scene, but the Nevada desert resort hadn’t reckoned on their one-and-only export, The KILLERS. Fronted by 80s, synth-pop-fixated Brandon Flowers, a dandy highwayman of sorts, the group were one of several post-millennium American outfits (The STROKES, INTERPOL, The RAPTURE and The BRAVERY among them), that procured a “Best of British” policy – well, at least initially.
Spurned by his L.A.-bound bandmates in similarly-fixated trio, Blush Response, former hotel bellhop Flowers (vocals/keyboards) called upon guitarist David Keuning, and, in turn, bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. to machinate his musical manifesto; the latter two had superseded demo short-stops Dell Neal and Brian Havens respectively (Matt Norcross had been their drummer since their inception in 2001). Something of an anomaly among the garish glitterati or punk/rap-metal brigade of their hometown, The KILLERS’ initial break was when a talent scout (Braden Merrick) sounded out a demo opportunity with former GREEN DAY manager Jeff Saltzman and his mixing man Mark Needham. But it looked doom and gloom for the band when their showcase was turned down by Warner Brothers. Up stepped British A&R man, Niall Norbury, who found an interested party in Ben Durling. It was his job at London-based independent Lizard King (home to fellow Yanks, The GO), that led to The KILLERS inking a deal.
A limited-edition of `Mr Brightside’ was chosen as the quartet’s first release in autumn 2003, but it wasn’t until the gender-bending `Somebody Told Me’, a UK Top 20 smash the following March, that The KILLERS’ engagingly sleazy impact was recognised. As voyeuristic purveyors of Yankee new romanticism, the band’s resultant return to their homeland (to perform at the ASCAP CMJ Music Marathon in NYC), led to bidding wars, with Island Records coming up trumps. A re-released `Mr Brightside’ (now generating a Top 10 position) cornered the same market; the record setting off a chain reaction which propelled their debut album, HOT FUSS (2004) {*7}, to the top of the British charts (US Top 10). From the band’s impressive digestion of various 80s gloom/glamour merchants and “Born Slippy”-style megaphone vocals, you’d never have guessed they hailed from the neon lights of Vegas.
Even DURAN DURAN themselves (inspired to recreate their classic sound on their “Astronaut” set) couldn’t nail that heady “Rio” echo as well as Flowers and Co. Unlike the fairly clean-cut “Wild Boys”, The KILLERS courted controversy on a regular basis, trading insults with US rivals, The BRAVERY, and causing offence as far afield as Lothian in Scotland, where a high profile murder case was allegedly the subject matter for one of Flowers’ lyrics. `All These Things That I’ve Done’ followed the equally anthemic `Somebody Told Me’ into a minor placing in the US charts, while a reinvigorated `Mr Brightside’ was belatedly catapulted into their country’s Top 10. Meanwhile, a re-issue of their second outing went Top 3 in Britain in the early months of 2005, and single number four, `Smile Like You Mean It’, cracked the Top 20.
The much-anticipated SAM’S TOWN (2006) {*6} was more akin to SPRINGSTEEN, Bono or Ric Ocasek (of The CARS), and although it reached the highest echelons of both the British and American charts, it lacked the band’s brash and biting pop-hooks of their previous efforts. Still, one couldn’t complain with attendant alt-pop-fuelled hits, `When You Were Young’, `Bones’ and `Read My Mind’, while `Bling (Confession Of A King)’ had a certain edge – or for that matter – “Edge”. Produced by giants in their particular field, Flood and Alan Moulder (who’d worked with the likes of U2, DEPECHE MODE and other 80s/90s kingpins), the album was a little misguided and bypassed an opportunity to build on their alt-rock potential.
When the stop-gap odds ’n’ sods set, SAWDUST {*5}, appeared late the following year, The KILLERS suggested that they would and could put their Stetsons down anywhere they wished; examples from `Tranquilize’ (their UK Top 20 duet with LOU REED), to their goddamn awful covers of JOY DIVISION’s `Shadowplay’, Mel Tillis’ `Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town’ and DIRE STRAITS’ `Romeo And Juliet’.
The carcass of the yuppie 80s should’ve been left to fester in the melancholy mire it’d created, but The KILLERS soldiered on regardless, unwilling to compromise in their full-blown attempts to source lost-long pieces of the Atlantis/alt-rock jigsaw puzzle. Bolstered by the nonplus alien lyrics of Top 3 dirge, `Human’ – “or are we dancer?”, accompanying Brit chart-topper DAY & AGE (2008) {*7} flirted with disco and pop again, musical excavating everything under the sun – and them some – on further dance-floor ditties such as the ROXY MUSIC-esque `Losing Touch’ (one of three featuring Tommy Marth), the NEW ORDER-esque `Spaceman’ and the BLONDIE-meets-U2, `Joy Ride’.
A man settling into domestic life (he was now a father of two), and augmented by producer and part-songsmith DANIEL LANOIS, BRANDON FLOWERS’ solo effort, FLAMINGO (2010) {*6}, couldn’t quite separate him from his KILLERS’ instincts. A chance to stamp his own identity and bring his musical milieu into the 21st century, this was the singer’s attempt to bring about his own desert-pop take of “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”. Without any real “killers” on board (`Crossfire’ only briefly dented the UK Top 10), his world was of looking inward from a hometown hotel apartment out into a lonely city of bright lights and despair; `Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts’, `Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas’ and `Hard Enough’ (one of two penned with JENNY LEWIS) crying out for emotion and purpose. Vannucci Jr.’s BIG TALK (2011) {*6}, probably suffered in its wake, its power-pop manifesto reminiscent of STEVE MILLER, The CARS and even WEEZER.
The platinum-selling BATTLE BORN (2012) {*7} – The KILLERS’ fourth album – was arguably as close to their 80s idols than any of their previous efforts, and while Flowers could pull off a good SPRINGSTEEN bombast (or a poor man’s RICK SPRINGFIELD or JOHN MELLENCAMP), one couldn’t help thinking TEARS FOR FEARS, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS or WANG CHUNG. In a modern-day world of retro this/retro that and downloads, will one ever place the likes of `Runaways’ (their only major hit here), `From Here On Out’ and `Flesh And Bone’ in their own time zone, or are we, er… dancer?
Five years since his first foray into solo land, BRANDON FLOWERS was aping his 80s heroes on his UK chart-topping (US Top 20) sophomore set, THE DESIRED EFFECT (2015) {*7}. Whether the record had what it professed to have was another story. Brandishing all the traits of his forefathers and mothers, the wall of sound produced by Ariel Rechtshaid was contemporary, arena pop, lying somewhere between ORBISON (or better still, ISAAK), MADONNA and er… Jack Hues (WANG CHUNG to the uninitiated). Borrowing that 80s SOMERVILLE/BRONSKI BEAT motif, “Smalltown Boy” Brandon roped in PET SHOP BOYS’ Neil Tennant for `I Can Change’, while the short-ish guest list captured BRUCE HORNSBY for `Between Me And You’. Cool ballads or just sophisti-pop shoe-shined to perfection, the stylistic FLOWERS pollenated alt-rock with his heart and soul on `Dreams Comes True’, `Can’t Deny My Love’, `Still Want You’; slow-burning set but worth pausing until one hits the right mood-swing.
© MC Strong 2006/GRD-MCS / rev-up MCS Feb2013-May2015

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