July 6,2006

Killers try to avoid a 'Fuss'


By Chris Lee, Special to The Times

LAS VEGAS' the Killers know, with as much certainty as any multi-platinum-selling band can know, that success is an existential crisis waiting to happen.

After the gonzo reception for the group's 2004 debut, "Hot Fuss," which has sold 5 million copies worldwide and logged 53 weeks in the top 50 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, the Killers realized they would have to change their sound for the follow-up CD or face the dreaded sophomore slump.

"The band was faced with the challenge of moving on or making the same record again and being relegated to remaining an '80s synth-pop new wave band," says Rob Stevenson, the band's A&R manager at Island Records.

The chance to change direction came in the form of Alan Moulder, the journeyman engineer on "Hot Fuss." He reached out to the band's management with a groundbreaking idea: The engineer and veteran British producer Flood (real name: Mark Ellis) offered to team up to produce the Killers' second album, marking Flood and Moulder's first reunion as a production team since working together on the Smashing Pumpkins' 1995 double CD, "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" a sprawling, epochal work that expanded the boundaries of alternative rock.

"What [the Killers] wanted was a record that sounded one way on the radio or on your stereo but when you put your headphones on, you could hear all this other stuff you didn't hear before," Stevenson says. "The band met with different producers, but at the end of the day, they seemed to click with and share Alan and Flood's vision the most."

The CD, "Sam's Town," recorded in the group's hometown and set for release Oct. 3, marks something of a departure. Although lead vocalist Brandon Flowers told Billboard.com the group is trying to "strip down" its sound "a little bit," Stevenson, who has overseen recording, parses that characterization.

"If anything, it's more grandiose and bigger," he says. "What [Brandon] might have meant is it feels more organic and live, not so compressed and processed as 'Hot Fuss.' Everything feels like it has its space."

Both the label and the band have accepted that the new direction probably will alienate some old fans.

"I think you're gonna lose some people along the way," Stevenson says. "But I think we're going to gain a lot more. It's an extension of what they've done before. The songs are epic, but all of the hooks are still there."

So does that mean all the Killers' Duran Duran-meets-the Smiths comparisons will become a thing of the past?

"The album feels gigantic," he says. "Queen was always able to do these great stadium anthems rooted in pop. That's what [the Killers] have accomplished. Now people just have to get past the 'This isn't "Hot Fuss" ' stage and everything will be fine."

The Killers' new single, "When You Were Young," will hit radio on July 25.*(it is already playing in some areas*)