james debate
james debate

Saturday 15 November 2008

The Killers shouldn't work. They burst onto the scene at pace with their 2004 debut album Hot Fuss, at a time when guitar music popularity was on the decline to the point of being a joke, an industry polluted by pretty faces with no discernible talent, peddling songs that were written not by a real band, but by some bland corporate machine. They appeared clad in dandyish clothing, covered in makeup and eyeliner, a pretty frontman, they certainly looked more of the same.

5 million sold cds later they returned with their anglophilic pop stylings shed in favor of beards, black and white photos, and cheesy Americana, with songs that had more of a Springsteen taste to them. Another 4 million sold and they have returned for their third studio album with another completely different sound. Day & Age features an excess of synthpop, saxophones, caribbean steel drums, sitar strings, and 80's style funk. With such an eclectic mix of sounds and influences, this album really shouldn't work, it just shouldn't. But apparently no one has told the Killers. The Killers have come of age.

the killers day and & age review

Not only is this the best album the Killers have ever produced, it's one of the best records this year, and in this writer's humble opinion it is the most consistently good album since the Red Hot Chili Peppers' By the Way. The quality of the songs is so high throughout, that to refer to any of them as the weakest song on the album would in no way reflect any lack of quality with that particular song, but rather serve as an indication of the intense polish and care that has gone into every single facet of this album.

It is one of those rare albums where I can honestly say that there is not a single 'bad' song on the album. Some are better than others, sure, but the mark of a truly great album is how well the lesser songs stack up next to the big hits. This is an area that even in previous albums from the Killers I could point to a few tracks that didn't do anything for me, but absolutely not so this time. This is most apparent when observing a group reaction to this album; whereas with Sam's Town you generally had everyone loving When You Were Young and one or two others, and with Hot Fuss everyone was blown away by Mr. Brightside and All These Things I've Done, with this album everyone will find different songs that appeal to them on some special level. 

Whereas I love Losing Touch, I Can't Stay and This is Your Life, i've spoken to people who reckon Dustland Fairytale is one of the Killers' finest ever, or Neon Tiger, or The World We Live In. The Clash magazine's review reckons Goodnight, Travel Well is an absolute classic. The variety present in this album, as well as the high quality throughout, mean that everyone will find songs to adore here, and every song will be loved by someone, and that is not something you see with every album. Every song here is good in its own right and will grow on you if you give it a chance.

The album opens with a suitably eclectic number in Losing Touch, with classically twinkly sounding electric guitars, flanked by blaring saxophones reminiscent of 80s/90s David Bowie and harmonies and lyrics that usher in feelings of a Simon & Garfunkel epic. The first half of the song serves as a declaration of the band's return and by the time the second half comes around with its triumphant harmonies you will feel like you're in a warm embrace with old friends after a long absence. This song will grow on you big time, and is likely the third single that will be released from this album, it is also coming to Guitar Hero in a future trackpack along with Mr. Brightside and the next song on the album.

Human is the next song on the album and the first single to have been released. Probably most of you have heard this song by now. Filled with epic vocals and shiny synth, and bloody brilliant to boot, this song carries more than a few shades of the Pet Shop Boys. Produced by Stuart Price who did the 'thin white duke' remix of Mr. Brightside, this track has divided some Killers fans, with many thinking it a masterpiece and others bemoaning the electronic dance direction of the song. Personally I think it's hard not to love this track and if you've been put off by the electronics then I would encourage you to give it a chance, I think you'll find a gem of a tune underneath. And if not, the beauty of this album, as I mentioned, is that you'll find something more up your street elsewhere.

Next we come to the second single released from this album, in America anyway (still waiting for it in England), Spaceman. Taking inspiration from Bowie and Queen, this is definitely the catchiest song on the album; fast paced, driving beat, great hooks, this song is destined to overwhelm radio stations and clubs and become a singalong favorite at concerts for a long time to come. It is also the best vocal performance Brandon Flowers has ever given us, showing remarkable charisma and range, and making it all sound so completely effortless too. This song stakes his claim as a world class vocalist.

If you were ever a fan of Roxy Music or Bryan Ferry then you will absolutely adore the next track, the intensely funk and sax-laden Joy Ride. At first this was one of my less favorite songs on the album, owing to the sheer cheesiness of the vocals in some sections, but in the end this is just too catchy a song not to like, culminating in a climax that will have most rooms jumping. Another one that will grow on you.

A Dustland Fairytale is next. This song has become a favorite amongst many of the people who have heard the album so far and I can see why, but I have to say it is one of my less favorite songs. I love the Killers when they are playing uptempo songs that put you in a party mood, and this is a fairly slow ballad. But that's not to say it isn't a good song, because it is, and I still like it, just less so than other songs on the album. Starting off slowly, this song, supposedly about Flowers learning to deal with his parents getting older down the years, just grows and swells until bursting point with the pure raw emotion of the Killers' front man and a powerful build up that demonstrates the strongest narrative ever in a Killers song.

The Killers reach the apex of their eclectic mish mash of exotic sounds in This is Your Life, a song full of African chanting, electric harpsichord and spacey guitars that really just shouldn't work, and yet it all comes together in an absolutely breathtaking and epic way, forming one of the finest moments on the album as it all comes to a cathartic end with Flowers venting his soul at the audience. And again, on first listen I didn't really notice much from this track, another one that grows on you in a big way. For me, this is likely to be the most satisfying song in the long run.

I Can't Stay is one of the most unusual songs on the album, sounding completely different to anything the Killers have done before. Trading the usual stadium blasting anthems for a laid back Caribbean number with the saxophones making a return, accompanied by steel drums and one of the prettiest of the Killers' many fine melodies they've concocted for this album, a song about a young man desperately struggling for answers to one of life's big decisions, culminating in an emphatic crunch point in the final portion of the song.

Next comes Neon Tiger a song which Flowers states he wrote while trying to sound like the band MGMT, which is kinda funny since they're such a new band, but I like it since I really like Oracular Spectacular. However this is another one of my less favorite songs. It's a catchy, if slightly sluggish song about a celebrity (in my opinion Flowers himself) taking the spotlight and fighting to maintain his independence that comes together in an astonishingly intense midsection that is strongly reminiscent of Sergeant Pepper from The Beatles.

The World We Live In is the penultimate track on the album, combining a space age ambience with extreme 1980s electro pop that builds up a funky rhythm before breaking down into a chorus of airy guitars and horn. Flowers delivers another top notch vocal performance that crescendos until it's just shy of overdoing it, just enough to make this a very fine song. Even if the chorus feels a little derivative, the rest of it is very catchy.

The album closes with a 7 minute long finale Goodnight, Travel Well.. The extreme length of the song as well as the over the top darkness and heaviness was always going to make this a song that divides opinion. In the end it's not really a song that I can say I'm going to sit and listen to on the commute in the morning. The song doesn't really feel like it gets started until three minute or so into the track, when it finally begins to reveal the true intentions of the song. Those who listen patiently to the entire thing will find a slowly building powerhouse finale of epic proportions, finishing off the album with a tune so savage and raw, written apparently just after the lead guitarist's mom died, that it sounds like the sort of song U2 would use as for a big finish. It definitely works in that sense though it's hard to imagine a lot of people sitting through the full 7 minutes more than a few times to reach the thunderous, crashing finish.

I loved Hot Fuss and Sam's Town, even though I felt that with both of them some of the lesser songs were a bit weak, and with Sam's Town i didn't so much like the over the top heaviness that they went for, even though I commend them for continually trying to evolve their sound. They have done it once again with an album that sounds remarkably fresh and original. It is pleasing to see them continue to show such devotion to the music rather than becoming like so many other big bands and just peddling out the same songs over and over again for 15 years.

Clearly the album is not perfect. For starters the main reason the album is so consistently good is clearly because the album is very short, just 10 songs. However if given the choice between a short and sweet album with only the best of the best or a longer album with a lot of filler I will always take the short and sweet.

On top of this, I can't help but feel that despite the overall consistency and high quality of the album, there should really be one more mega-mega-hit. The first two singles Human and Spaceman are pretty unanimously top notch songs, but are either of them really as good as Mr. Brightside or All These Things I've Done? One of the main drawbacks of the astounding and early success the Killers achieved is the pressure to follow it up. It's hard to fault them for not quite living up to such astounding classics, most bands can only dream of ever writing songs of that quality or of the quality present with this album, but you have to feel like that one more big hit would have made the difference between a classic album and an absolutely legendary career defining album.

But really it takes a man of exceptionally poor taste or ill formed prejudice to dismiss this album based on those points. The cheesy nature will, of course, not be for everyone, but to be honest most of those people are probably not the type to go out and have a fun time listening to music like this anyway. This is the Killers doing what they do best, uplifting and addictive pop-rock. But on top of this the Killers have retained the essence of their deeper sound from Sam's Town, resulting in their most mature recording yet. This is the album where the Killers have come of age, perfecting the blend between the unique pop-rock sound of Hot Fuss with the depth and grit of Sam's Town, equally welcoming to those who enjoy the superficial exuberance of youth heard here and those who delve deeper into the core of the album.

In the end, this is an essential album for today's youth, if not a defining one. An album about excess, disposable income, champagne fountains and all-nighters with friends. These are songs for the good times in life, the nights out in Leicester Square, or the Las Vegas strip as the case may be here. This is an album exactly as one should be made, adventurous, evocative and always in search of a deeper meaning. Let this album in and it will be the accompaniment to many memorable parties, the driving force on wild nights out, and the comforting friend who keeps you company until the sun comes up the next morning. It will surely become the soundtrack to many young lives this Christmas and rightly so.

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