It’s finally happened. You’ve finally come to grips with this new reality. Your eyes and ears open to the harsh truth that a band you once loved has gone to shit. Sometimes it happens fast, sometimes it happens slow. Maybe over the course of two or three albums spanning a number of years, or maybe it comes out the blue. Whatever the case, it is never easy when it happens, and recently it has happened to me with a band I particularly love.
The group in question is The Killers. Much like Hot Fuss was the band’s first album, it too was my first “real” album. My first foray into what I told myself was “good music.” Similar to anyone who happened to walk by a radio in 2004, “Mr. Brightside” was my first taste of the deceptively English-sounding band from Sin City. This infectious, catchy, glitter-caked musing on a love lost had such a poetically ironic name that I didn’t stand a chance. I was sold. Naturally my next step was to purchase the album, which I did probably the next day, followed by running that disc ragged. That album became the soundtrack to the summer before my freshman year of high school and would remain a staple of every season to come for several formative years.
Something in that album resonated with me. It was just one of those inexplicable things. The Killers had their hooks in me and I wouldn’t let them go. Even as I sit here writing this I want to give examples of how that album changed me but I would have to go over every song on that album and preach the sermon of teenage Clay for pages. For instance, my favorite line of the album was, “When there’s nowhere else to run, is there room for one more son? When you can’t hold on, hold on.” Are you fucking kidding me? 15-year old me thought that line would end the world. I thought I was wise beyond my years because I KNEW I was the son they were talking about. It was me! It had to be! Their Las Vegas dazzle and shine blinded me in the light of glam rock and androgyny that would have made David Bowie proud.
Then came Sam’s Town, their sophomore effort which had a lot to live up to after the colossal success of HF. Honestly, I was afraid it would let me down. I was scared I would be left at the roulette table spinning the same songs and wondering what could have been, but the boys delivered. They cashed in their chips, changed their aesthetic to a dirty, trailer-park cowboy look and wandered off the Strip into the Nevada desert with a husky 17-year-old ready to follow them to the ends of the earth.
At this point in my tale I was completely smitten with Brandon Flowers and company, and with Sam’s Town recently celebrating its tenth anniversary I actually got the idea to write this piece because this is also the point in the story where things began to go wrong. Now, like HF, I ran Sam’s Town into the ground. I knew every word of every song front-to-back. I was relentless. I was blowing out granite for the first spot on my musical Mount Rushmore one Dave Keuning guitar riff at a time and worshiping at the altar of Flowers, Stoermer and Vannucci…but nothing lasts forever.
Like most high school relationships the staying power doesn’t last, eventually the shine wears off and things began to dull with their third album Sawdust, which was comprised of b-sides, unreleased material and “rarities.” Now my view of the band didn’t sour with this album but in hindsight this was definitely the start. When I first listened I was hesitant to try and fully compose my thoughts on it because my gut told me I didn’t like it. Sure, it has its merits. It had a decent cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay” and Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet,” the opening track “Tranquilize” was a collaboration with Lou Reed (You can’t not like that, right? If Lou Reed is in it then it’s cool right?), and featured a demo version of “Sam’s Town” that was recorded at Abbey Road (That’s cool, right? You know, like The Beatles? It’s gotta be cool.) and a demo of “Change Your Mind” that admittedly did tickle my fancy, so can’t say all was lost...initially. Then came the revelations. Revelations that covers are fun, but they don’t make an album, that Lou Reed mumbling under a song doesn’t make me like it any more than I would've without him and that while I love a good demo track, if you need to use less refined versions of a prior hit then maybe the well was just running dry that day, but I digress. To be fair, outside of the context of this album I do like covers, I do like Lou Reed and I do like demos, but I didn’t want that. I wanted more of The Killers. I wanted synthesizers. I wanted stories of girls too pretty for me. I wanted that shine. I wanted mostly everything Sawdust wasn’t. It just felt like a mess, which can easily be defended since it was a collection of songs and was not born out of one album’s recording cycle. So, these excuses were the reason I wasn’t done with them yet, but it was my first taste of musical dissatisfaction.
So, Sawdust blew away into the wind, I calmed my nerves and regained some composure about the band with a million more listens to HF and ST, and in October of 2008 “Human” was released as the first single off Day & Age, their next proper studio album. It was good, but it was not great. It was a Killers’ song in essence. It had the feel. It had the shimmer that their earlier work had but it was somehow not quite the same, at least for me anyways. It was like I was craving a Dr. Pepper and all they had to give me was Dr. Thunder. It was soda, it had the general taste, but it was not the real deal, it was not the name brand. This sentiment was cemented when the album dropped in November and I found myself going back to their first two albums to satisfy my needs every time I managed to make my way through D&A. That was when it started to hit me that maybe they were losing their edge, but I still wouldn’t quit them. I wouldn’t give up.
After their world tour for D&A the band took a short hiatus and I took a short hiatus from the band. They slowly fell into that roster of bands you have that aren’t always first-up in the batting order anymore but they always get a full play when they come on. They are the bartender, you are the regular and they’re there to fill your glass anytime you get thirsty. Then, in September of 2012, after four years of patiently waiting, like a kick in dick came Battle Born, and the moment of clarity and acceptance that they were no longer the band I loved, they were just a band that sounded vaguely familiar in unfamiliar ways.
I listened to BB all the way through one time. Exactly once, and I haven’t listened to it since. I can’t bring myself to and there is no need to. It’s not good. It simply isn’t and I refuse to let that album ruin what they are to me. They’re better than that and I know it and I’ll never accept anything less than the fact that they are selling themselves short. I’m not sure, maybe they just stopped trying? Maybe they don’t care? Maybe they peaked too early? I don’t know why but that’s the one reason that sits well enough in my mind. They were too good too soon. That seems to be the easiest pill to swallow.
The Killers’ exclusively exist in the realm of Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town now. When BB came out I metaphorically hung up my cleats. I knew it was time but I a little grain of hope take hold sat hidden in the back of my mind, and it sat there until September of 2013 when the band released a message written in Morse Code. It read “The Killers Shot At The Night” which would eventually be the title of the single released off of Direct Hits, the group’s greatest hits collection that still baffles me. I’m not sure that there is a rule for how long an act has to be together to justify having a greatest hits album, but it still feels too soon for them. It feels contrived and in the vein of Sawdust. Just another cop out, but I’m jaded so take that for what it’s worth. If you like them then you like them. If you think I’m a selfish baby over this then I totally understand, but all I want is for this great band to be great again. Great like they were. Great like they still can be. There’s no need for Morse Code announcements and the nonsense of the last two albums.
So, the last I heard was that The Killers are back in the studio and in the early stages of writing. How will it sound? I do not know. Will I give it at least one listen? Yes. Will I force myself to like it? Absolutely not. That’s why eventually you have to let some groups go. Sometimes you just have to put them on a shelf, and this way you can remember them the way they were before they ran themselves into the ground, and that’s how I think it should be.
“We hope you enjoyed your stay. It’s good to have you with us even if it’s just for the day.”
- from “Exitlude” on Sam’s Town