No rock band is an island
August 6, 2006

Watch out for the Killers.

The quartet from Las Vegas will transform from new-new wave curiosity to serious rock band, as well as major priority for Island Def Jam Records, with the upcoming release of its sophomore album "Sam's Town."

funny how a 5-million-selling debut and a string of hit singles changes things.

But Island Def Jam's massive, marathon push for "Sam's Town" (the album won't be released until October) isn't just a vote of confidence for the Killers. It's a rare sign of faith for a young rock band - a bet that new rockers can still sell albums, even as the previous establishment for building them continues to crumble.

Across the country, rock radio is in disarray. (Not in New York, of course, since it doesn't even have a new rock station.) The once rock-leaning MTV and VH1 are now reality-show-filled, while their more musical little brother MTV2 splits its time more evenly between rock and hip-hop than it used to.

Rock acts - such as indie-rockers and underground hip-hoppers - have become even more dependent on the Internet and street teams to build buzz and word of mouth in their new releases. And, more than ever, rock bands are looking for alternative ways to let their fans know about new releases - from cell phone and iPod commercials to slots in teen-oriented TV shows - along with the old-fashioned standby of extensive touring.

Of course, a lot of these problems could be solved by money - large checks for big marketing campaigns; big-budget, flashy videos; and monster promotions (the kind New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has his eye on). However, record labels, pressured by declining sales and profits, don't have a lot of cash to throw around these days. And if they do decide to spend, you can bet the multiplatinum hip-hoppers and pop divas get that marketing money first since they can generate far more sales than the average rock band.

All of which makes the campaign around "Sam's Town" seem so spectacular. Everything about the "Sam's Town" rollout screams high profile, from the Anton Corbijn photography and the band's new scruffy-glam styling to the high-powered guests in attendance for the album's listening party debut last month.

Def Jam Records' own president Carter (aka Jay-Z) was there, parked at the impossible-to-miss intersection of Open Bar and Hallway to the Men's Room. L.A. Reid, chairman of the Island Def Jam Records Music Group as well as superstar producer, was the evening's host.

Reid said "Sam's Town" was "groundbreaking and important" and has grand expectations for it - just as the first single, "When You Were Young," has been released to radio.

"It deserves this kind of attention," Reid said, adding later, "Any other record companies looking to release albums on Oct.3 should think about moving them. If they want the No. 1 album, they're absolutely not going to get it."

It's a bold statement, considering "Sam's Town" isn't as immediately pop-oriented as the danceable, synth-driven hits such as "Somebody Told Me" and "Mr. Brightside" from the Killers' debut, "Hot Fuss." However, Reid isn't worried. He said the album shows the band's improvement as songwriters and musicians.

"They now have the talent to complete the vision they had for the first album," Reid said. "It's an amazing album."

On first listen, "Sam's Town" is a solid album, chock-full of potential hit singles, as the Killers develop the more rock-oriented sound of its hits "All These Things I've Done" and "Smile Like You Mean It." However, it's unlikely to meet the hype of being called "one of the best albums in the past 20 years," as singer Brandon Flowers told MTV recently.

Nevertheless, good for Flowers for thinking so.

And good for Island execs for treating it like it could be.

If Island Def Jam's big bet pays off, developing rock bands of all types would benefit from the Killers' success. We could all be Mr. Brightsides then.