After a couple years hiatus, The Killers have finally arrived back in the music scene with their latest product, Battle Born. This year and a half hiatus was well needed due to the strain from touring non-stop and a couple death’s in The Killers’ family and friend circle. However, from the moment the CD starts spinning, it is obvious that this break has taken it’s toll on an otherwise blossoming rock band.
The vibrant energy and enthusiasm that was overflowing from their previous releases seems to be missing. For instance, the first track on their debut album Hot Fuss started off with one heck of a bass line while Battle Born introduces the listener to a horrendous synthesizer octave sequence that sounds like it was stolen from an Nintendo 64 game. I miss their varying musical arrangements to songs and the experimentation in the instruments. Battle Born in contrast focuses on the core of almost all of the songs, which is the chorus and the buildup to that chorus. Once the chorus is played, the song drastically goes downhill as The Killers desperately try to save the song until the repetition of the chorus, but they end up creating an awkward bridge transition. After song three, this pattern along with the rolling snare drum crescendo before every chorus is enough to drive any listener mad with boredom.
Before their hiatus, The Killers were on a massive run of success; this included headlining Hyde Park Festival and Lollapalooza. The arrangements of all of the songs seem to translate very well into a live setting, but not onto a CD for the avid listener. Throughout this album, The Killers try to induce a connection with their audience by ballads and catchy choruses. Sadly, as a result this desperate outreach to new fans just lead to awkward arrangements and more often than not a horrible selection of lyrics. Lyrics really are not needed in a song, they should be there to add to the overall feeling of a song or to give casual listeners something to grab on to. Unfortunately, Brandon Flowers, the lead singer, tends to force either a large string of words and/or syllables not applicable to a certain song.
Distant from the lyrical section, the guitar sound on the solos is dreadful. Most notably in the end of “The Rising Tide.” The guitar bashfully rushes into a solo just moments before the song ends simply to cut it short. A little past halfway in the album, it makes no sense to suddenly introduce guitar solos and to mess them up this bad. And what is further puzzling is that five, yes, count them, five producers were on this album. Surely, with five producers simple problems like finding a proper guitar sound to go with songs shouldn’t be an issue. Anyways, I digress; after “The Rising Tide” comes The Killers failed attempt at a lighter in the air ballad song. “Heart of Girl” is a story about a girl and her struggle with being accepted in the world. A great idea at first, but between the random choir vocal harmonies, church organs, and Brandon rushing through his story, this song sadly falls flat on its face. Following up that flop of a song is a little ditty called “From Here On Out.” From the opening guitar riff, it just sounds like a Grateful Dead rip off which is further solidified by the layering vocals in the chorus.
Although, Killers faithful, do not fret- at least too much. Despite all of its flaws, Battle Born does have its moments of glory, most notably in the radio single “Runaways,” “A Matter of Time,” “The Way it Was,” and “Miss Atomic Bomb.” In these songs, The Killers maintain a more radio friendly sound (music “A Matter of Time” which is the most hard rockin’ song on the album) while at the same time showcasing the musical quality they were known for. In fact, the five producers did do something right sonically, the bass guitar sounds spectacular. The sound keeps the grit and grime that this band associates with indie rock while not being too overdriven so it sounds like a buzzsaw. For me, this is what completely saves the album from being just an average release. Even though the drums do not perform many fills outside of the cliche snare crescendo roll, the bass freely adds its own personality to the music. This is shown especially in “A Matter of Time,” which in my mind closely resembles the bass line structure in “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine” off of Hot Fuss. Both songs start off with a slight intro followed by a guitar intro, which is quickly topped off by the bass guitar. The way that the end of the bass line complements the guitar is nothing short of magical. This is the most prominent example of Mark Stoermer’s excellent bass playing, but he improvises here and there throughout the entire album.
Even apart from that, the album just seems sloppy and thrown together to please radio junkies and to create an arena concert experience. Unfortunately, this is what happens when an American rock band turned British phenomenon is on a downward spiral. Their last album wasn’t a big hit among critics and fans alike, and from the looks of things, Battle Born won’t be changing any opinions anytime soon.