In the Noughties, the Killers made a lot of sense. The four-piece rock band began playing together in Las Vegas early that decade. In 2004 they released their debut, Hot Fuss, an album of punchy, hooky singles that captured the nostalgia and glamour of the new millennium, held together by the Freddie Mercury-meets-Morrissey vocals of the frontman Brandon Flowers. It has since sold more than seven million copies worldwide.
As the Killers’ career has progressed – with achievements including a headline set at Glastonbury 2019 – their role in the musical landscape has become less clear. Their specific brand of new-wave post-punk, which is accompanied visually by unironic leather jackets or white two-piece suits, has lost its relevance in a music scene that has largely moved on. And so their sixth album, Imploding the Mirage, released on 21 August, gives a sense of a band scrabbling to find their own identity.
In one sense, Imploding the Mirage does take the Killers in a new direction. Lead guitarist Dave Keuning has been on hiatus since the release of their last album Wonderful Wonderful in 2017, in part due to creative frustration. As a result, for the first time the Killers have found themselves in collaboration with the producer Shawn Everett (known for his work with Beck and the rock band the War on Drugs) and Jonathan Rado, one half of indie duo Foxygen.
Though meandering instrumental melodies lend a softness to “Dying Breed” and “Running Towards A Place”, they also dilute the somewhat limited sense of purpose on Imploding the Mirage, which is seductive for its kaleidoscopic, expansive nature, but lacks urgency. The lead single “Caution” features Lindsey Buckingham, of Fleetwood Mac fame, and his cameo stands out in an album generally lacking in the spangly guitar that once gave the Killers’ glitzy Nevada soundscapes edge. Buckingham’s guitar solo is a redeeming finale in a track that has emotionally bitten off more than it can chew: it sets up life-affirming melodies that are too meticulously crafted, and fall flat. It’s a little vague lyrically, too, weaving a trite yarn about a “pretty girl” getting “out of this town”, and – remarkably, given it’s only track four – making the second reference to “white trash” of the album so far.
Much more satisfying are the second single and opening track “My Own Soul’s Warning”, the fast-paced and insistent “Dying Breed”, and the energetic “My God”, which possess the sparkle and rhythmic propulsion that underpins the Killers’ most successful songs. All begin with pared-back instrumentation and then explode, adding pounding drums and bass guitar. “My God” in particular discovers musical ideas that are new to the Killers, welcome after three consecutive albums of high-shine indie rock. The chorus does not resort to a soaring melody to assert itself, and features backing vocals (from Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the indie-pop group Lucius) that sit an octave above Flowers’s voice, recalling the more baroque sound of the Canadian band Arcade Fire. The song’s title lyric is also given strength with a sudden slowing of pace and full-band hits on each word. Stalling the rhythm for emphasis is a device the Killers have used before (including on their most famous line, “Coming out of my cage and I’ve been doing just fine”), but it works again here.
The Killers have played more than 100 live shows a year since 2008, and it’s obvious they write to fill a stadium. Unfortunately, the formula of synth-and-guitar texture plus explosive chorus can become exhausting. Imploding the Mirage loses momentum in its middle section when too many of these booming soundscapes run into one another. “Lightning Fields” is a song carried by Flowers’s impassioned vocal. It would no doubt reverberate pleasantly through a big festival crowd at sunset, but its purpose at this point in the album is unclear.
It is followed by “Fire In Bone”, which has the swagger that distinguishes the Killers from their self-deprecating British indie counterparts (such as Razorlight or the Kooks), but its settled mood sits uneasily with a band whose greatest attribute is their ability to intone anguish. Similarly, when later in the record they attempt a loping calypso verse in “When The Dreams Run Dry” it feels jarring. Incongruity becomes chaos when this is followed with another glam-rock belting chorus, like Queen mixed with The Lion King 2.
Imploding the Mirage has moments that remind you why the Killers have made it to their sixth album: frustratingly, it has the blueprint of something big, but ultimately lacks personality. In attempting to capitalise on the youthful exhilaration that characterised their early work, they have undermined it. “Mr Brightside” – a song that unites in exuberance teenagers, middle-aged dads and coked-up 20-somethings – has become a classic because of its urgency and life-force. It filled stadiums by accident. But that was a long time ago.
“Imploding the Mirage” is out on EMI on 21 August
Imploding the Mirage