Review Summary: Uncomfortable, occasionally brilliant and entirely confusing.
On the lead single from The Killers' third release - fourth if you see Sawdust
as anything more than a compilation of B-Sides and other loose material - Brandon Flowers ponders whether we are Human
or dancer, a lyric which has sparked enthusiastic debate around a Hunter S. Thompson quote that America is 'breeding a nation of dancers'. Interestingly, such a fundamental question of identity and mould is akin to the type we are now forced to ask of The Killers.
As a band that hit big in 2004 with the epic, electronic indie-pop of Hot Fuss
, they forced fans to re-evaluate them when Sam's Town
largely abandoned the synths in favour of more layered and less penetrable soundscapes. With Day And Age
, they break their shackles again. It's not dramatic, it's nothing previously unheard and it's certainly no avant-garde art-pop, but it does provide an enigma in terms of pigeon-holing them, and that is probably something to be admired considering their popularity.
OK, Day And Age
does at times seem like it's got direction about it, and it certainly isn't lacking character. On top of that, you can see in songs like Neon Tiger
a combination of the factors that went into making their first two LPs so accessible. A track with a noteworthy bassline which, at points, has the necessary weight to carry predictable but addictive drum rhythms, it's got hooks all over it and typically impenetrable lyrics. The next song, The World We Live In
welcomes back the synth and you're home, although it is one of the weaker the album has to offer.
One thing that is slightly unsettling is that despite the absence of any 'notable filler' (read: songs that don't warrant their inclusion at all) it is still very obvious where the singles will come from. Some of the tracks are so catchy and jam-packed with sing-a-long choruses - songs like Spaceman
, Losing Touch
and the aforementioned Neon Tiger
- that it renders the album at times inconsistent, because for all their merit the songs between seem to stumble and fall a little short.
But although the aforementioned trio of songs is incredibly endearing and likely to be the music that meets radio listeners' ears, the stand-outs here come in the form of the record's near-centrepiece, A Dustland Fairytale
, and the 7-minute closer Goodnight, Travel Well
. Both songs build noticeably (the former from its inital piano to guitar crescendos, the latter more gradually from drones to heart-breaking noise), and demonstrate some of the better songwriting on offer here. Near the end of the former, Flowers pleads 'Now Cinderella don't you go to sleep/It's such a bitter form of refuge', and the emotion is immense - one of the few jaw-dropping moments on the album.
And in that, you have the main problem, the largest flaw of a record with so much to offer but so very little soul. Casting your mind back to Mr. Brightside
, recall how the chorus sounded breathless, desperate and still incredibly catchy; the honest truth is that, if you're looking for that sort of thing here, you won't find it. It does sometimes seem that The Killers took a deliberate shot at more understated songs - Human
is a prime example - but this is a mistake. There may be more moments here than on Hot Fuss
or Sam's Town
that will make you smile, but there are considerably fewer that will make you shiver.
In spite of all that, The Killers have managed to produce something very listenable which has a respectable degree of artistic merit and will deservedly ship in the millions. It's just a shame that a band with such obvious talent for writing hooks and fantastic pop music has yet to find a meaningful groove or direction and as such blows hot and cold. Day and Age
sounds like a set of lost musicians making glitzy, occasionally brilliant tunes with smiles on their faces, but who, on finishing, probably felt proud, somewhat uncomfortable and entirely confused.