Serial Killers
by Cameron Adams

Brandon Flowers put a curse on the Killers, writes Cameron Adams

Brandon Flowers, frontman of Las Vegas band The Killers, has never been short of confidence. As he was working on Sam's Town, the follow-up to their five-million selling debut Hot Fuss, Flowers was sending messages from the recording studio.

The message was far from subtle: Flowers said not only would the new album top Hot Fuss, it was set to be one of the best albums of the past 20 years.

"I've had time to digest the album, sit with it and live with it, and I know it's that good," Flowers says.

"It's just a matter of time before everyone else gets to love it like I do."

Flowers says he didn't make the statement to hype up his album, he was just being honest when asked to describe the record. His record company and management weren't quite so happy.

"They said I'd put a curse on the record," Flowers laughs.

"I still feel that way about the album, though. I don't take it back."

We're talking in London, Flowers' spiritual home and the country where he believes The Killers are taken most seriously.

"We've sold five million records and we can't get on the cover of Rolling Stone, but they'll put Lindsay Lohan on the cover," he gripes.

It was discovering Oasis, Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths that caused Flowers to fall madly in love with the music and dream of making his own. He added a touch of New Order and a hint of Duran Duran and Depeche Mode for the Killers' sound.

The recipe worked: their 2004 debut Hot Fuss had hit singles Mr Brightside and Somebody Told Me that seduced radio stations around the globe.

For their second album, Flowers again turned to his record collection.

Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins) and Flood (Depeche Mode, U2, Nick Cave) were hired as producers.

After recording the album at home in Las Vegas, the Killers moved to the back streets of London to add the polish. We're at a dingy little studio called Assault and Battery; a venue Flood and Moulder like to use for luck.

Being the media-friendly band they are, the Killers have pencilled in a few hours each day when they stop mixing the record and talk about it to journalists.

Flowers treats the occasion as a chance to hear what fresh ears think of their new album, not just the producers and yes-people from his record company.

In fact, before we walk in we're told by the record company to be prepared: Flowers likes to look at people's faces when they're hearing his new songs to gauge their reactions.

Flowers is DJ. What's played is up to him. He chooses five songs, some not even finished (Flowers hums where he has yet to put lyrics). Others, such as Bones, sound like instant world beaters.

Flowers asks a studio employee to hunt for one song that's been shipped in from the US overnight as we sit and wait. He says little, smoking a cigarette, which many suggest is at odds with his Mormon faith.

Upstairs, he remains serious as he moves into interview mode.

He's a fan of the interview process. As a youth, he'd read Noel Gallagher or Morrissey interviews with the same kind of fervour as he'd listen to their music.

However, though Noel and Moz's slamming of nearly everyone made them famous, Flowers' outspoken criticism of the Bravery and Fall Out Boy made headlines in a beige new musical world in which no one says anything.

In 2006, Brandon Flowers is more reserved. His feuding days are over.

"When I look back at it, I know what type of person I am and I'm not like that," Flowers says.

"I get along with people. I love people. I want to help people. I was upset that people thought of me as this bitchy, pompous person who wears expensive jackets. That's all they were seeing. It's not how I was raised. It's not how I want to be perceived, it's not how I am.

"I'm honest. I get it from my dad. I was raised on the phrase, 'Tell it like it is' and that's a good thing. People asked me what I thought about a band and I told them.

"Now I'm seeing that may not be the best thing. I appreciate what other bands are doing. We're lucky to be as successful as we are. Everyone's out there doing what they're doing and there's nothing wrong with it. I kinda have a different view now."

Pushed, Flowers says the criticism hurt him more than people know.

"I feel like we're a gang, and I hate that. I wish we could all get on. It doesn't feel as if we're part of any scene. Bands these days are like gangs - pirates and cowboys. I'd love to bridge that gap. Heaven forbid we'd do a duet with somebody like they used to, but we'd like to bring that back.

"I would like everyone to come along with us, to be part of something. There's never been that angst-driven stuff with us, I'd like people to stand next to me and shout it with me. I don't think you'll hear me saying anything terrible about bands any more."

That is, however, until we get on to the concept of marketing. It's something Flowers doesn't quite understand.

He grew up in an era when bands had an air of mystery, not a blog where they shared their daily activities with fans.

Flowers was ignored by Morrissey when he worked as a busboy and waited on his hero. He was ignored by Morrissey when the Killers supported him. He doesn't mind.

"That's just Morrissey," he says, pointing out he thinks Bones will be "Morrissey's favourite on the album".

Flowers loved how Morrissey waited years to release a DVD with all his singles on it. He fought his record company, who wanted to release a Killers DVD last Christmas.

"We're finding a happy medium," Flowers says.

"I still love the mystery of Morrissey. We've already done far more than he would have done. We're somewhere in the middle, which is where I see our band. I understand indie. I understand that mentality, but I can't deny the excitement of being humungous, of bringing tons of people together to celebrate. We walk the line.

"We do things that are to do with the times. We have our music on iTunes. We have a website, every now and again we post on it. But it's things like putting DVDs out, all this extra junk, it's helping to ruin everything.

"Morrissey put a DVD out and I was so excited after waiting so long for it. I'd have been less excited if on every single there's been all this extra footage."

It's here where Flowers' new PC train slightly derails.

"You have these new types of bands, emo bands, who are on their website every day talking to their fans. They want to put everything out... I'm going to dig a hole for myself here again, but they're setting themselves up to be short-lived.

"They have to milk it while they can. I like to have some wonder about bands. I want the Killers to have that wonder. You have these emo bands, as soon as they start getting hair on their chests, their careers are going to be over."

Named after an old casino in their home town, Sam's Town was fittingly recorded in a Las Vegas casino.

Not just any casino, but one called The Palms, which have built a Fantasy Tower.

"It's ridiculous," Flowers notes. "If you had an imagination of what Babylon is like, it's this place. It's so bad. The world is strange..."

Inside the Fantasy Tower, among the "erotic suits" is a recording studio. It was christened by Sam's Town.

Flowers admits there was a strange lure to recording in a casino, and not just the fact he could go home late each night.

"I just love the smell of casinos," Flowers says. "It was nice to go in there and have that smell, that noise. They pump a lot of oxygen into those places, so there's the combination of fresh air with cigarette smoke, the slot machines... I don't know what it is, but it's a great smell."

"It's very alive in there, even though it's completely depressing, people losing their money."

After the touring of Hot Fuss finished (Flowers even fitted his wedding and honeymoon into their schedule), the band started compiling the songs they'd written on the road, including part of Bones and My List, which made the final product. Another, Higher and Higher, turned into part of Bling.

On the road they got some sage advice - from none other than Bono - on following up their debut.

During one of their regular five-minute chats when the Killers opened for U2, Bono told Flowers to "spare us the interesting second album".

"He's saying that from experience," Flowers says. "They made (second album and abject failure) October. He's looking out for us.

"But we are set in our ways so much that we're not going to try to make Kid A on our second album," Flowers says, referencing Radiohead's deliberately difficult record.

"I don't think we'll ever make an album like that anyway. I think Hot Fuss is a great first album. There should be room to improve. It'd be sad if you could only go backwards."

Flowers says he's keen to silence the haters who think they can't do it again.

"I know it all happened so fast. I don't feel any different from when we were playing in Las Vegas bars, and that wasn't that long ago. I think we still have to prove ourselves to a lot of people, which is understandable. But I think we have better songs.

"I think When You Were Young shreds Mr Brightside. I'm happy I'm in the band I'm in because I think we're really good, but when I think about music in general, it feels as if there's a drought. That's why we have to prove we can do it again."

Sam's Town (Universal) out Saturday. The Killers will be announced next week as part of the 2007 Big Day Out line-up.


Flowers finds The Boss is Petty good

Between albums, Brandon Flowers discovered Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty.

"I'm a believer," Flowers says of discovering The Boss belatedly.

"You always hear jokes like 'If he's the Boss I quit', stuff like that. I didn't really know how important he is, how good he is. He's so inspirational.

"You just believe every syllable that comes out of his mouth. With Morrissey you don't know if he's telling a story or messing with you. I like the directness of Bruce just singing his guts out."

Flowers says he bought Springsteen's entire back catalogue; he has most recently pored through Darkness on the Edge of Town.

"I just fell in love with some of this music I'd known about but didn't own," Flowers says.

"I had the greatest hits, but I didn't realise how good some of the stuff I was missing out on was. These were albums people knew about but I didn't, and I should have. I fell in love with Thunder Road from Born to Run and it just made me think, 'What else has he got? He wrote that when he was 24 or 25, so there has to be some other stuff'. And of course, there is.

"It's just nice to find something I love that much at this age. I felt as if I was a young kid again, It didn't feel any different from when I got (the Smiths') Louder Than Bombs, when I got Greetings From Asbury Park, it was the same type of excitement.

"I'd play songs over and over, hit the rewind button, hear it again. It was real exciting for me."

The Boss had a direct influence on Sam's Town.

"Not that we sound like Born to Run, but it's a nice new ingredient to our sound. I still want to sound like me, I want us to sound like the Killers, but it's made me look at things differently. I'd been listening to British bands for 12 years, so it was a real breath of fresh air to me. I think it's definitely shown its face on this album."


Album review:

Talk of the town: The Killers' Sam's Town
by Cameron Adams

On first listen, you'll want to love Sam's Town more than you actually will. Persevere and those initial feelings of being underwhelmed are blown away by a strong, strident and stadium-read second album.

Sam's Town
Dramatic mini-epic; familiar synths and driving pop kick in when you get your first taste of Brandon Flowers' new Broooce-inspired lyrics. It's out with androgynous girlfriends and in with brothers born on the Fourth of July and grandmas called Dixie.

When You Were Young
Flowers claims it "shreds" Mr Brightside. It doesn't, but it proves the Killers finally have a bit of hair on their chests and not just the new communal growth on their chins and top lips. Listening to all that vintage Springsteen paid off; this is just waiting for stadium audiences to pump their fists along to it.

Bling (Confessions of a King)
Magnificent: a pounding tale of "running with the devil" on "the land of the free ride". The chorus gives you a power rush a la mid-80s U2. Again, purpose-built for stadiums.

For Reasons Unknown
Nothing new here, but saved by a chorus in which Flowers kicks the voice up a notch or five.

Read My Mind
Deceptive at first, live with this and you realise it's amazing. Various influences ('80s synth, New Order bass, U2 riffage, lyrics about "two-star towns") build up (and up and up) into a killer Killers triumph.

Uncle Jonny
Excellent. Driving bass and piercing guitar tell the dark tale of Flowers' cocaine-snorting uncle who killed himself. "He's convinced himself right in his brain that it help to take away the pain," Flowers says of his late uncle's chemical habit.

Just when you think things can't get better, the album's most poptastic moment surfaces. As ever, there's a twist - Morrissey-like verses with bluster and brass, then an immense chorus: "Don't you want to feel my bones on your bones? It's only natural..." Global hit-in-waiting.

My List
Low-key ballad liable to be skipped on iPods the world over.

This River Is Wild
Good, but Killers-by-numbers saved by the intense last minute.

Why Do I Keep Counting?
Grand finale that doesn't quite ignite; Killers go Queen.

Where the White Boys Dance
A bonus track? Madness. Well, actually more like early Duran Duran - cool, dark funk.

The verdict: a clever mixture of what they do best with several new directions, this is the sound of Brandon Flowers putting his money were his big mouth is.

4 stars out of 5.