Reborn in the USA-NME Magazine June 28,2006

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Meet The Killers Mk II: bearded, Springsteen-obsessed and even better than before

The last time we saw Brandon Flowers, he was mincing off into the middle distance of a Miami afternoon, bedecked in a box-fresh Dior tuxedo with a VMA in one hand, a bottle of overpriced mineral water in the other, and his foundation holding up remarkably well in the glaring 90-plus heat. He was going, he said, back to Las Vegas to record the most important album of his young life. With 'Hot Fuss' just days away from shifting its four millionth unit, he was the first to admit that bettering the success of The Killers' debut album would be far from easy, but if his band were to become the biggest, most important band in the world, it would, quite simply, be a necessity.

That was August 2005. Ten months later, and we're face to face with The Killers again, only in the somewhat less glamorous setting of an innocuous north London recording studio. Gone are the crisp white shirts, replaced by thrift-store threads and hippy beads that wouldn't look out of place on Devendra Banhart's floor. Where once their footwear sealed such levels of shininess you could apply your eyeliner in them, they now sport scuffed Vans and well-worn boots coming apart at the soles. And speaking of eyeliner, the pocket-sized secret weapon that served them so well in their quest to achieve pan-gender androgyny has been ditched in favor of some decidedly unfeminine facial hair. Frankly, The Killers look as though they've spent the last 10 months finding what Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were looking for in 'Easy Rider'.

The Killers' second album - as yet unfinished, never mind named - has taken a long time, both in conception and execution. The band were road-testing songs for it as far back as January last year (although 'Where Is She?' definitely won't make the cut, and 'All The Pretty Faces' - debuted at Glastonbury last summer - has a question mark hanging above its inclusion), and even today, with final deadlines looming, Brandon hasn't finished writing the lyrics for several tracks.

NME is here for an exclusive first listen to the long-gestating fruits of their labours - so far, six songs are nailed down, while another 11 are in various stages of (in)completion. Share prices at Universal won't go into freefall if the September 18 release date isn't met, but by all accounts there are a few anxious record execs who'd like to know just what's going on. They're not the only ones. The advance word is that this record is The Killers' love letter to their homeland, steeped in the iconography of America's wide-open spaces, and indebted to its twin musical colossi of the 1970s, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. This album - so it has been said - sees The Killers reject their mantle as The Best British Band Ever To Come From The US, and stake their claim to the less confusing title of The Best Band To Come From Anywhere, Ever. Yet, surely for a band weaned on the fey wiles of Morrissey and Bowie, clenched-fist, sulphate-stained stadium rock is a bit of a leap?

"Well, when people were calling us 'The Best British Band From The US', or whatever, it made me cautious, and it made me wonder, especially in my lyrics, what I was trying to achieve and where I was coming from," muses Brandon. "A lot of people in England identified with our first record, and obviously we don't want only American people to identify with this record, but we have broadened our horizons a bit. We don't wanna rebel against that title... I mean, we were on our tour for two years. And all of our fantasies about Europe and Japan and those places became reality. And at the end of it all, when we went home, it made me realize how in love I was with America, how much I missed Nevada. Absence made the heart grow fonder.

"There's a line in one of the songs on the record, 'When You Were Young', that talks about 'Burning down the highway skyline' that's all about Vegas. In the UK, the sky always seems so small because everything's built on this small island. Where we live, there's this wide open desert with this skyline that's just... inspiring."

From the moment the unmarked CD-R starts spinning, it's clear that The Killers have spent no small amount of time staring off into that skyline, and seen beyond their own holy triumvirate of Morrissey, Bowie and New Order. Drenched in three-part harmonies and lush production (courtesy of U2 collaborators Alan Moulder and Flood), it's still The Killers, but it's bigger, more expansive, a little less full of itself, a little more human. Out of the corner of our eye, we spy Brandon Flowers tapping his feet and nodding his head, knowing he might have made that 'Important' record he's been talking about for the last year.

"For me," Brandon will say later on, "this is the album. I feel totally empowered by singing it. Even my voice itself, it's not as affected any more, it's not quite so... created. There's a spiritual element to the music that wasn't there before, there's something a little more... real about it."

'Realness' may be the by-product of Brandon no longer imagining himself as a rain-sodden strangler of ex-girlfriends in a 1950s film noir, or a gender bending disco-dancer with an insatiable appetite for fornication - we are, after all, talking about a happily married practicing Mormon - and focusing instead on... well, real life. His missus. His new best mates Bono and Elton. His fear of flying. You know, the everyday stuff.

"One of the most personal songs on there is 'Why Do I Keep Counting?'," he muses, "which is all to do with my phobia of flying. It's something that's become a real problem for me since we got successful. But I feel as though if I talk about it in interviews, it lessens the chances of my fears actually happening. Like, I've talked about it, so it would have to be a huge coincidence for it to actually happen to me. Does that make sense? It seems way more improbable than if I didn't talk about my fears of what might happen. That's why I've been seeing a psychiatrist, once a week for the last few months. To talk about my fear."

While NME can't escape the feeling that we should be charging by the hour for this sort of stuff, you can understand why The Killers might need a little mental re-adjustment after the last two years. For starters, despite their obscene success, they're as equally loathed as they are loved, not least of all in their native Vegas.

"When we got back to Vegas," seethes normally reserved guitarist Dave Keuning, "it's not like they get the red carpet out of anything. People are bitter. They assume we live in LA and they bitch about is in the papers out there. Some of them knew us or were in a band with us back in the day, and they've been against us from day one. I'll never forgot our first album review in Vegas: 'It has one minor hit in 'Somebody Told Me' and they use a choir on 'All These Things That I've Done'.' Like you have to earn the right to use a choir!"

As a result, the band have a love-hate relationship with their hometown. Yes, it's home, and they recorded the lion's share of the album there, but the darker side of Vegas is something they don't have much time for.

"You wouldn't believe where we recorded the album," says Brandon. "We were in a place called the Fantasy Tower in the Palms Hotel, and Las Vegas right now should have a big sign over it saying 'WELCOME TO SEXTOWN'. It's only interested in attracting sex tourism. You know what the city's motto is? 'What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas'. It's terrible. It's basically a haven for infidelity and corruption. For me, I wanted to run from the car to the studio and block everything else out. It's fine for us because we live there, but I don't think it would be wise for a band to go out to Vegas to record an album."

There are some good things about Vegas though - like when Brandon and his wife Tana get invited round to superfan Elton John's place. "He is just the nicest man, and people forget how important he is, how many lives he's soundtracked." Brandon enthuses. "And when it comes to new music, he's more on the ball than anyone I know." And Sir Elt's not the only bona fide celeb to have fallen for The Killers' charms: while on a recent tour with U2, Bono as good as passed the Big Music mantle on to a starstruck Brandon when the pair duetted on 'In A Little While'. Brandon tells the following story slouched on a sofa, the model of indifference, but by the end of it, a wide grin has spread across his face.

"We were all sitting around at an aftershow, and we were all pretty drunk, and Bono leant over and said, 'Come along to our sound check tomorrow', and I was like, 'Yeah, he was drunk, he'll forget about it.' But sure enough, the next day, I got a phone call saying, 'Sound check's at five, don't be late.' So I got to this empty arena and Bono said to me, 'We were thinking of playing 'In A Little While' tonight, I know it's your favourite song, do you wanna sing it with us?' I mean, it was amazing. I'm still not used to hanging out with U2, and I still learn so much from watching them play. Did Bono slip me any answers? No, I'm still waiting on the Bono talk. I don't think we're getting it. He's scared to give it to us! Could you imagine how good we'd be if we had it? It wouldn't be fair!"

Brave words, but The Killers are confident that they've got the album to back it up. They're convinced that this album is going to mean to you what 'Is This It', 'The Queen Is Dead' and 'Born To Run' meant to them, but it goes beyond that. As indie's most outspoken field commanders in the war against emo, they also see it as their duty to make sure we don't go the way of their homeland. Fall Out Boy, it's time to cover your ears...

"All those bands, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, they're only influenced by each other," says Dave. "Each other, and Blink-182. How can that be a good thing?!"
"You don't realize what you could be getting yourselves into, with Fall Out Boy, and what kind of impact it could have in a way that you don't really want," warns Brandon, when we tell him that his bugbear (??) of choice recently had their first NME cover. "Culturally, if it gets as big as it is in America, it could change an entire generation of people growing up here. Emo, whatever you want to call it, is dangerous. We don't wanna dislike anyone, and we've never met Fall Out Boy, but there's a creature inside me that wants to beat all those bands to death. They just all go into the happy emofunnel and everyone loves 'em without thinking. 'Oh, Fall Out Boy likes you? Fuck! I'm gonna go buy your CD!'"

The groans from bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci are anguished; they have no beef with anyone. But even they know it's the tantrums and tiaras that makes The Killers such a fascinating rock'n'roll phenomenon. They've strolled back on to our horizon, John Wayne-like, from out of the desert and with scores to settle. It just so happens they might also be packing the album of the year with them.

"This album will be a springboard for us to do whatever the hell we wanna do," says a visibly excited Brandon Flowers, confident that he has, indeed, finally found what he was looking for. "We want every album to be more exciting than the one that came before. We want every album to be a new debut."

Ladies and gentleman, meet The Killers Again.


Killer Tracks

NME gets an exclusive listen to the new album's finished songs

Why Do I Keep Counting?
Concerned with Brandon's fear of flying, it's a sprawling mini-epic, reminiscent of Bowie as much as Springsteen, opening with a twinkly synth part and culminating in the soaring climax of, "If I only knew the answer, I wouldn't be bothering you".

Bones
Possible first single, with a definite Queen flavour running through it. Very catchy, summery feel, with Brandon saucily urging us to, "Feel my bones/It's only natural". Topped off by a brass section that'll sound fantastic at next year's festivals.

When You Were Young
The album's most Springsteen-esque moment, with lyrics relating to "A beautiful boy/He doesn't look a thing like Jesus but he talks like a gentleman was supposed to/When you were young". Another possible single.

Uncle Johnny Did Cocaine
The closest thing to 'classic' Killers, it's based around a relentless dark and twisted guitar riff, and almost sounds like '70s-era Iggy Pop. "My appetite ain't got no heart", sings Brandon, "I feel a burning in my body core".

Read My Mind
Almost unrecognizable as The Killers, this is a slow, stately '80s mega-ballad, with Brandon delivering an impassioned vocal ("I never really gave up, I never once said die/I never wanted more than anybody else, can you read my mind?") - possibly his best to date. Definitely an anthem in waiting.

Sam's Town
A raucous guitar intro gives way to a synth-heavy verse, before settling into a big sing-along mantra ("I see London, I see Sam's Town/It takes my hand and lets my hair town') at the end. It's a nastier-sounding song than the others, but undeniably catchy. Our ears may have deceived us, but we're sure there's a violin in there somewhere, too.