james debate
james debate

Sunday 15 October 2017

Genre Alternative rock
Label Island
Producers Jacknife Lee, The Killers, Erol Alkan, Stuart Price

the killers wonderful wonderful 2017 the man

It's been five years and one solo album since The Killers’ most recent and most divisive album, Battle Born. Battle Born was certainly not a bad album by any means, but its mixed reception at the time rightly drew unfavourable comparisons to the band’s previous work, as fans expressed disappointment at the relatively derivative nature of the music. The album still spawned hits and platinum singles, but that couldn't shake the feeling that The Killers had found themselves in something of a rut creatively. So began the longest hiatus in the band's history.

But rather than take a holiday, frontman and lead songwriter Brandon Flowers decided to use that time to refresh his process. With a new production team and a wider range of musical influences, Flowers has since entered a period of great creative output.

A year after Battle Born, The Killers released the promising single Shot at the Night, mixed by guest producer (and musical star in his own right) M83. Two years after that Brandon released his second solo album, The Desired Effect, in another first time collaboration with prominent producer Ariel Rechtshaid. Praised for its creative variety and slick production, the Desired Effect received critical acclaim. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone described it the best pop album in recent memory.

Creatively reinvigorated and enjoying a second wind of success, Brandon Flowers now returns to the band that made him a star with The Killers’ fifth studio album, Wonderful Wonderful. The result is something quite different to anything The Killers has done before.

Wonderful Wonderful sees the band trade their signature high tempo rock and roll for a sound that is much slower and heavier in tone. They follow suit thematically, abandoning the tales of Hollywood, Vegas glamour, and cheesy Americana for topics that are far more meditative than we have come to expect. Instead we get what is ostensibly an exploration of Flowers' own psyche, his self-doubt, questions of masculinity, his legacy in music. Such raw introspection is a new angle for The Killers, and while the music may not necessarily sparkle in the same way their best tracks do, this lends a greater sense of poignancy and reality that you might not expect from this band.

This is something that I can see turning a lot of long time fans off the album. Such a sedate tone from a band known for their energetic stadium lifters can be quite jarring for those who came hoping for the next set of radio-friendly hits. But give the album a chance, and you will be well rewarded with a piece of work that is complex and beautiful in its own right, if not at all what we were expecting.

The album can be roughly divided into a series of thematic pairings of tracks.

Opening and title track Wonderful Wonderful serves as the thematic introduction, the "id" of the album presented as a swirling tempest of the insecurities and concerns that weigh heavily. This contrasts heavily with lead single The Man, the super ego of hyper-masculine braggadocio. The track itself is an enjoyable enough homage to the funk-era of 1980s David Bowie and to a lesser extent Roxy Music, borrowing heavily from the bass-line of Bowie's Fashion, and directly referencing Fame. Still, it's surprisingly forgettable for a lead single from The Killers.

Next, the duo of Rut and Life to Come delve into personal tragedy, drawing inspiration from Flowers' own struggles and in particular the ongoing health problems facing his wife Tana. The former is a slow builder of a track teeming with defiant insecurity, while the latter swells into a full-on U2-esque declaration. Knowing the context of this one-two hit makes it difficult not to tear up a little when listening, but more than that this connection to a very real and human feeling of devotion and loss.

Flowers returns to themes that have historically been fertile ground for his songwriting, career and legacy in Tyson vs Douglas and Out of My Mind, religion and faith in Some Kind of Love and The Calling. Tyson vs Douglas and Some Kind of Love in particular are arguably the two best tracks on the album. The former is a creative flip on the classic "underdog beats the champion" story, putting you in the perspective of the defeated champion. A breathless ride through the champ's state of mind ensues, a veritable storm of fear and shame. The latter, co-written with the legendary Brian Eno, is a dreamy star of a tune that evokes shades of Coldplay, as well as Eno's own earlier work.

The odd one out is second single Run for Cover, itself one of the most crowd-pleasing tracks on the album. Originally written for The Killers' third album Day & Age, Run for Cover doesn't fit neatly with the themes or structure of Wonderful Wonderful. One suspects that it has been brought in to make up for the lack of upbeat songs on the album. The album then finishes on a fittingly introspective note with the knowingly titled Have All the Songs Been Written.

Wonderful Wonderful is an album that, as a whole, stacks up favourably with The Killers' previous efforts. Artistically, some might even say it's a step up, and I can see critics responding very strongly. Still, I came away feeling underwhelmed. This is an album that lacks a standout track.

Run for Cover is a fine single, but does it really stack up individually with Mr. Brightside, Human, or even Runaways? You'd have to say the answer is no. Tyson vs Douglas is a better song, but one that might only just make the top 15 songs written by Brandon Flowers. Some Kind of Love is probably the strongest track on the album, and it's a slow burner of a track that I can see flying under the radar of most people. There isn't really a bad song on this album, but equally there is little that seems likely to live long in the memory in terms of individual songs.

This is an album that reminds us what a strong songwriter Brandon Flowers can be, and demonstrates an extra dimension of the band's talents that we have not seen before. The days of Hot Fuss' pretty-boys with makeup seems long ago, Wonderful Wonderful cements The Killers' status as one of the prestige rock groups of modern music. While these may not be the best songs they've written, they represent another fine addition to a growing body of work.

Must Listen :
Some Kind of Love
Tyson vs Douglas
Run for Cover

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