Killers' Day & Age
Preview: Hungry Like The Wolf, In Bigger Than The Sound
A close listen to upcoming LP, out November 25, seems to solve
lyrical mystery of 'Human' chorus.
By James Montgomery
On The Record: Shiny, (Relatively) Happy People
In a recent feature, London's Observer newspaper proclaimed that the
Killers "may just be the strangest band in America." I don't know if
I agree with that. Perhaps "the strangest multiplatinum, major-label
band in America" is a better fit. Or even "the strangest band in Las
Regardless, the sentiment is correct. Over the course of five years,
the Killers have been nothing if not unpredictable and rather
unapologetically so. Whether they're masquerading as starry-eyed
synthesizer aficionados with an Anglo sweet tooth (2004's Hot Fuss)
or gruff-voiced Springsteen disciples with a thing for widescreen
Americana (the '06 follow-up, Sam's Town), they've certainly danced
to the beat of their own drum machine, critics be damned.
So it sort of makes sense that on their latest, Day & Age (in stores
November 25), the Killers have decided to jettison practically
everything you've previously known about them and just make the best
Duran Duran record in recent memory (or at least a pretty good David
Bowie album or a decent Bryan Ferry disc).
Produced by British dance retro-ist Stuart Price (formerly of Les
Rhythmes Digitales and Zoot Woman, and most of Madonna's Confessions
on a Dance Floor album), Age positively sparkles with studio sheen,
a record full of crisp, echoey vocals, spaced-out synth squiggles,
bossa-nova drum patterns and way more saxophone than you could
possibly imagine. There are moments that recall early-'80s gems like
"Rio," "Notorious," "China Girl" and "Slave to Love," if not so much
in style as in sophistication. If nothing else, Age is an album of
unabashed excess, of neon-lit late nights, of diamonds and dance
floors and endlessly bubbling champagne. It is a record for the good
times, even when times aren't necessarily all that good.
Opener "Losing Touch" kicks off with a rumbling R&B horn section and
some starry guitar work, with frontman Brandon Flowers inviting some
unknown bon vivant to "caress me in your velvet chair" and "go run
and tell your friends I'm losing touch." The song builds to a frothy
climax before a winging guitar solo from Dave Keuning brings the
party to a close.
First single "Human" is up next, a shiny mix of galloping bass lines
(a Price trademark) and smoky synth lines. By now, you've surely
heard it, and while there's not much else to add, I will say that,
having listened up close and personal, there is roughly an 85
percent chance Flowers is singing "Are we human/ Or are we denser,"
and not, as many believe, "dancer." Which sort of makes more sense,
in some cosmic way, I suppose.
"I Can't Stay" is next, starting off with more of that galloping
bass and some twinkly harp, throwing some shuffly guitar into the
mix and then tossing everything overboard with an insane saxophone
line that takes this into Carnival Cruise Line territory. Throw in
some calypso rhythms and a genuine steel-drum line at the song's
end, and you've got a complete, couples-only Caribbean vacation.
That's followed by "The World We Live In," which starts with a
galaxy of strings and synthesizers and Flowers singing "Maybe I was
mistaken/ I heard a rumor that you quit this day and age." The song
opens into a great starry space, then collapses back in on itself
with more horns and spindly, spy-movie guitars. "A Dustland
Fairytale" is next, a somber, sepia-toned tune reportedly about
Flowers' parents. Featuring plinking piano and mournful cello, it
builds to a powerful, soaring crescendo, and coupled with Flowers'
Americana-obsessed lyrics (plenty of mentions of "blue-jean
serenades," "party dress"-clad damsels and "Kodachrome prints"),
it's perhaps the album's only song that harkens back to the Sam's
The opposite of that is "Neon Tiger," a shimmery example of glitzy,
Baroque pop that — in its early sections, at least — recalls Taco's
"Puttin' on the Ritz." The song builds to a string-filled climax,
with Flowers summoning all manner of faux drama and bellowing,
"Away! Away! Oh, run!"
"Spaceman" follows, pure synth-rock candy and "ooh-ooh-ooh!" backing
vocals. There is some fabulous robo-guitar work, a rather nifty
bass/drum/vibraphone breakdown, and some ray-gun sound effects, and
— it should be noted — Flowers puts on perhaps his best vocal
performance of the entire album, cautiously and delicately exploring
an upper range most (myself included) didn't know he possessed.
The album enters the homestretch with "Joy Ride," which is about as
unabashed an ode to '80s pop as you'll find in 2008. Starting off
with "chicka-chicka-chicka" vocals (like Yello's "Oh Yeah") and
wah-wah guitars, the song kicks into gear with Flowers singing about
a bad-news girl in a "candy-apple red dress," then flies into
absolute overdrive thanks to a lengthy saxophone section, some bossa-nova
drums and more of that galloping bass line — a glitzy, goofy bit of
dance-floor mastery that's only topped by Flowers shouting, "When
your chips are down/ When your highs are low — Joy Ride!" in the
Taking an abrupt 180, "Joy Ride" crashes headlong into "Goodnight,
Travel Well," a six-and-a-half-minute exercise in ominous horns,
desolate drum fills and Flowers at his absolute nadir, wailing, "The
unknown distance to the great beyond/ Stares back at my grieving
frame." The song does build to a rather impressively powerful
strings-and-horns middle section, but given its length — and its
depressing subject matter — it seems bizarrely out of place on the
album (it also sounds a lot like Radiohead's "Climbing up the
Walls"). Simon Le Bon would not approve.
After all the dirge-ery, Day & Age wraps up with "This Is Your
Life," which rides a bizarre, treated loop of vocals and chants,
throws some electronic harpsichord into the mix and tops it off with
an Edge-y guitar line. Flowers sings, "Your sky's full of dreams/
But you don't know how to fly," and the whole thing builds and
builds until he's left shouting, "This feeling won't go ... wait for
it ... wait for it ... " while the lights come on and a drum cadence
ushers the last partygoers out the door.
No word on the after party just yet, but I'll assume it's going to
be fabulous. After all, living the high life means never having to
come down, not even for a minute. And on Day & Age, the Killers go
unapologetically higher and higher (mostly). At this point, they're
never gonna touch the ground.