Review Summary: Battle Born to Run
I am one of those who prefer The Killers Sam's Town
album rather than Hot Fuss
. It's purely a personal preference, they are perfectly capable of making great songs (and nonsensical ones) in either style. Yet I'd take 'When You Were Young' over 'Somebody Told Me' any day. Thankfully, The Killers latest effort panders to my particular penchant for old-fashioned rock.
first single 'Runaways' is an almost instant classic (that initial two minute wait for the chorus is oh so worth it). This completely unashamed, fist in the air rock song is one of the best singles in recent memory, and I can't help but get caught up in the video, the album art, and the lyrics. It's like a modernisation of a classic rock track, complete with synchronised guitar ring outs and cymbal smashes. As far as paying homage to an old style goes, I'm not sure how much better a band could have achieved it.
The Bruce Springsteen comparisons were tirelessly made following Sam's Town's
release and it is likely to continue. 'The Way it Was', a sentimental, soft muted guitar and pads four-chorder, contains a number of 'Boss-like' themes. Lyrics of dreams, girls, cars, trust, loneliness and love, it's real heartland stuff but The Killers aren't just projecting Springsteen on this album. Aspects of Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed, U2, Bowie, Dylan, I think I even heard some Enya in there somewhere, and I'm particularly fond of the near Jim Steinman harmonies (long tales and multiple vocalists) in 'The Way it Was'. In this album, more than most, I enjoyed listening out for influence but maybe it's a generational thing.
While not the power house that Meat Loaf is, Flowers' vocal work throughout this album is actually superb, performing 'delicate' and 'triumphant' with ease, and the vocal delivery itself says much about his songwriting ability. The glissando on the 'Runaways' chorus is just the beginning. His use of phrasing and rhythm is incredibly versatile; reading the lyrics of 'The Way It Was' alongside this song really highlights how Flowers can manage words and note length to his advantage.
The exception to Flowers' vocal prowess is track 8, The Killers produced 'Rising Tide'. Despite its fuzzy, garage rock guitar solo, it's not quite as interesting as the previous songs, and I suspect Flowers' vocal was chained to a synth, or pitch corrected, on the chorus holds. It's just a little too smooth, with a suspicious, though acute, phase wobble. In this era it is unlikely to be the only instance where his vocal was treated with pitch correction and it's not that distracting. But this track did break the illusion of quality somewhat. On Flowers' vocal. And the album.
Nonetheless, there are some stellar songs here. Proceeding track 4, the 'November Rain' meets 'Bed of Roses' ballad 'Here With Me' (complete with classic lead guitar licks throughout) comes 'A Matter of Time' and they're back with a bang. There's a wonderful major / minor divide here, beginning on a high with flurries of drums and clanging guitars. The intro is beautiful and unlike the rest of the track, this isn't just the verse chords without the vocal (see Green Day - though that is no slight on them) but it takes a solemn turn (somewhat foreshadowed by the song's title) with its depiction of a doomed relationship ("can't put out the fire with matches in my hand"
). It's an interesting take on a love song, containing some great imagery ("it was the night / it was the moon / it was the green grass in the garden / the victory and the sin"
) and the dramatic conclusion is consistently surprising and impressive. It really is a classic and becomes all the more sweet when listened to alongside its sequel, 'Miss Atomic Bomb'.
At 4:52, it's the longest song on the album and a real slow burner, beginning with the lyrics, "You were standing with your girlfriends in the street / Falling back on forever / I wonder what you came to be…"
referencing 'A Matter of Time'. With nearly two minutes before it leaves the stalls, it's akin to 'Runaways' in its steady climb, featuring an instrumental break following the first verse (one of a number of purely instrumental intervals on the album) which further ups tension. I'm impressed by how The Killers can change the structure of their songs so naturally that they still sound as if they are in ABABCB format. Not that there is anything wrong with the three minute verse chorus/middle/eight pop song, It's just very refreshing to hear as many organically flowing songs that simultaneously sound dynamic but also reassuring. The song fades out with a pleasing canon, concluding a very memorable and heartfelt five minutes.
While there are some less impressive slower paced tracks, this album has a great vision (even the upbeat, 8/8 feel of 'From Here on Out' is curiously and impressively befitting of the album) and satisfies through to the finale with the appropriately anthemic title track (pretty much all you could want from a last song, and definitely up there with the other great tracks on the album). But I'd like to end this review with my thoughts on the opening song.
'Flesh and Bone' begins with its lone, metronomic beat growing in reverb (emphasis on atmosphere and attention to detail). "I head like a raging bull / Anointed by the blood I take the reins / Cut from the cloth / Of the flag that bears the name “Battle Born” / They call me the contender / I listen for the bell / My face flashing crimson from the fires of hell / (What are you afraid of?) / And what are you made of? / Flesh and Bone / And I’m running out of time"
It's a real fighting song. Rocky
, Raging Bull
, even Jean Claude Van Damme has his moment here (yeah the line "there's no surrender / 'cos there's no retreat"
makes an appearance, but I'm actually thinking it has more of a Kickboxer
credits song flavour). And the ending, spoken word, tannoy-like, and rousing, "we're the descendents / of giant men", a metaphor for courage and survival, resonates.
If it sounds like I have described an awful song, it's part of my intention. I think the average indie fan will turn their nose up at such cheap thrills. But for those who were raised on the likes of Bon Jovi (for better or for worse), I think Battle Born
has to be listened to. If only to catch a record that would sound better in the stadium than the club.