Killers out to slay the '80s-retro tag
BY ALAN SCULLEY
The Killers' hugely popular first CD, "Hot Fuss," really didn't give fans much of a sense that the band was from Las Vegas. In fact, the group was most often compared to British acts for its New-Wave-ish keyboards and dance feel.
But if one considers Vegas a city with a neon-bright, big-as-life personality where nothing is too glitzy, fun awaits at every turn and living large is a way of life, then The Killers may truly have gone Vegas with the group's latest platinum-selling CD, "Sam's Town."
At least, that's how Killers singer Brandon Flowers sees it.
"I think it's just a natural thing," Flowers said in a recent telephone interview. "We've been going away from home so much, and we wanted to have a connection with where we're from. It is a big arena where we live. It's a beautiful place. It's in the Mojave Desert, and everything's red and gray and purple and brown, and it's wonderful.
"Then you've got the glitz of the city. I think we managed to take it into the dirt, up in the mountains, and then there are parts where you go back into the city."
As the bigger-than-life comparison to Vegas suggests, everything about The Killers seems bigger and bolder on the new CD.
The songs are anthemlike in sound and scope, with wall-of-sound guitars -- supplemented by strings and horns on some tracks -- and the pop hooks to match. Even Flowers' modest vocals on "Hot Fuss" have grown to take on a Bono-ish sense of drama.
In supersizing its sound, The Killers also may reshape an image as the band that has led a retro-'80s movement that has seen a wave of groups emerge with records that evoke everyone from Bauhaus and The Cure to The Cars and Depeche Mode.
Flowers, though, feels "Sam's Town" reflects a wider range of influences than "Hot Fuss" -- not that the group was bent on escaping any particular image created by the debut.
"We didn't love it," Flowers said of the '80s-retro tag. "I understand how people want to tie things, and we use keyboards and we like a lot of the music from the '80s, so it's going to come out. We weren't necessarily making an effort to shed that. We weren't saying, 'OK, well, we don't want to be called '80s anymore.'
"We had the time and the resources to make the album we wanted to make (with 'Sam's Town'), and we're influenced by the '50s and the '60s and the '70s and the '90s, too. I think it all kind of shows its face on there."
Flowers knows better than to deny the '80s influence, considering it was a key facet of his songwriting even before The Killers formed. In fact, his previous group, Blush Response, was even more synth-pop-oriented than The Killers.
That band dumped Flowers in 2001 after he chose to stay in Las Vegas rather than join the other members in moving to Los Angeles. He met guitarist Dave Keuning through an ad in a local paper, and they formed the early edition of The Killers soon afterward.
By 2002, the group's early rhythm section had been replaced by current bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, and The Killers were off and running.
"Hot Fuss" first became a hit in England, and after its summer 2004 release in the United States, it blasted its way to more than 3 million copies sold in the States (5 million worldwide). It spawned four hit singles -- "Somebody Told Me," "Mr. Brightside," "Smile Like You Mean It" and "All These Things That I've Done."
Flowers said the success of "Hot Fuss," as well as the bigger recording budget it allowed, emboldened the band to think on a grand scale for the new CD. "Sam's Town" is already being called The Killers' arena-rock album, and Flowers didn't balk when that description was mentioned.
"I think we have these ideas in us, the string arrangements and the brass, but it was taking a risk (on "Hot Fuss") for us just to put the choir on all of these things," Flowers said. "People were thinking, 'Who do these people think they are? This is their first album.' So we were a little cautious. We walked on eggshells a little bit.
"Now it's all kind of thrown out the window. We've had the success of 'Hot Fuss,' and we feel like we're allowed to do what we want."
Flowers said The Killers' live show matches the size and scope of the new songs.
"We love putting on a show," Flowers said. "We're big fans of (David Bowie's) 'Ziggy Stardust' and things like that with the theater aspect, and Elton John and Queen and all that. So we're trying to apply that to these songs."