Review Summary: 2012: Year of the Springsteen
The Killers try so hard. A classic example of a band desperately clawing at the slope they're sliding down, down, album by album as fans cross their fingers tighter hoping the next one will be better. The Killers' city lights synthed-out debut Hot Fuss
was messily angsty, a trove of radio-worthy alt rock with dignity. In a hard-swerving effort to nix the sophomore slump, Sam's Town
washed away the edge, creating cleaner back-home nostalgia music, and in the wake of Sam's Town
's middling reviews Day & Age
brought back a calmer smooth synth…at the cost of worthwhile melodies.
So what has been sacrificed this time?
seems a sweaty-brow effort of a failure. The synth is twinkly decorative underpadding to what is now full-blown U2
-worshipping arena rock. The guitar licks meld with synth in such a way to smack strongly of The Edge, and every track is formulaic to float off into seats, the production full of wavery space. Brandon Flowers' pristine tenor is permanently attached to a concert hall effect, and echoey gang vocals pipe up at each available chance. The cover art is evocative of a different sound, a muscle car racing down a barren highway syncs up with the newly Springsteenian influence. "Heart of a Girl" has a gentle heartland bar-band twang, while "The Rising Tide" has a definite Jersey nick and "From Here On Out" is a shameless ode to old school Boss with a Mellencamp hook. The riff from the title track screams "Baba O'Riley," and even on "Be Still" a bluesy guitar lick pipes up.
But the hardest-hitting shortcomings of Battle Born
aren't so much the shirtsleeve influences, but that the songs themselves are painfully unmemorable. Lyrically bland (verging on whiney) and presumably constructed in the pursuit of being "soaring," choruses are agonizingly slow-burning. Too often for comfort the chorus is nigh unidentifiable within the song structure and the song passes uneventfully. Even with the chorus present, "Here With Me" is a terrible attempt at a lighter-waving sing-along featuring the grimace-inducing line "Don't want cho picture / on my cell phone". Promising penultimate ballad "Be Still" is infected with a manufactured drum beat that, even past being plain offensive, is staggering to the classic style the album subscribes to. The same style may be to blame for Brandon Flowers' uninspired cliché-laden lyrics, moaning about making out with the radio on, etc.
The record is saved by the innate human bent for the dramatic, and the fact that anything expansive and full of one-syllable words is exceptionally fun to yell off-tune in a moving vehicle. The tracks heaviest with Americana-rock are surprisingly the best-written and most entertaining, and although the butterfinger songs here may try in vain to grip immediately, repeated attempts to enjoy them result in a sort of shameless pity-love for them. In the end you feel so sorry for Battle Born
it starts to grow on you.
As far as redemption goes, Battle Born
only lifts The Killers so far as to vault them back over the mess of Day & Age
, without garnering nearly enough velocity to reach the plateau of their debut. It's a record gropingly desperate to maintain relevance, simultaneously trying to be a return to form, an evolution, and a classic revival, ending in maudlin reverie via referencing cell phone photos in a 70s ballad. Meant almost exclusively to be played repeatedly during long lonely drives dwelling on your high school sweetheart.