Review Summary: A look into the more experimental side of The Killers.
B-sides fascinate me. At their best, they can provide an interesting look into the more experimental side of a band, and provide some fun material to go through during breaks between albums. These tracks are, however, usually reserved solely for the hardcore fanbase. They are rarely accessible to the casual fans, and they can be hard to track down, so most never get a chance to hear them. Sometimes, however, a band will be so confident in their rare tracks that they’ll put them out for the whole public to hear. That’s exactly what The Killers did with Sawdust.
A collection of b-sides and rarities, the 17 songs on Sawdust (a surprisingly vast number for a band only two albums into their career) represent some of the Killers strangest music yet. Spinning through Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies (“The Ballad Of Michael Valentine”), straight up dark rock (“Tranquilize”, the sole new song on this album), and menacing techno (highlight “All The Pretty Faces”), The Killers show here that they have far more range then previously thought. The most surprising thing about Sawdust, though, is that it may actually draw new fans into the band.
Somehow, the songs here seem to have hit a middle-point between Hot Fuss’ glammed up synth-pop and Sam’s Town’s arena rock pomposity, and it works. Lacking the overly clean production of the latter and the pretentious lyrics of the former, Sawdust, at its best, is full on synth-rock bliss.
Fortunately, Sawdust is at its best roughly 90% of the time. Songs like the aforementioned “All The Pretty Faces” and the long-lost conclusion to Hot Fuss’ “murder trilogy”, “Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf”, are surprisingly dark tracks, with menacing synth’s and some great, theatrical vocal performances. “Move Away” is one of the best songs that the band have written, reducing their sound to a simple guitar/bass/drum/vocal rock out that retains the catchiness of Hot Fuss’ best tracks. “The Ballad Of Michael Valentine” provides a look into the bands more experimental side, with an opening of sparse, fluttering guitars and soft “ohh-ohh” backing vocals that builds into a great little rocker with a nice country twang.
The albums best moment, however, comes in “Sweet Talk”, a Sam’s Town outtake that ranks among The Killers best songs. Starting with a warm little keyboard line, the song breaks into a techno synth riff and a rather danceable drum line, before launching into one of the most epic chorus’s that the band have recorded yet. The best part comes in the bridge, as Brandon lets his vocal range show, reaching into some nice falsetto notes before a dense wall of sound breaks out around him, launching us into one last repeat of the soaring chorus. It’s one of the, for lack of a better word, coolest moments that The Killers have put to tape thus far.
Unfortunately, not all of Sawdust stands up to these heights. The Mr. Brightside Remix takes the bands breakout hit and turns it into a rather plodding 8 minute dance track, and the Abbey Road version of “Sam’s Town” robs that song of all of its fantastic energy. Lastly, “Who Let You Go"”, though moderately catchy, is far too repetitive for its own good.
Overall, though, the ratio of great songs to bad is staggeringly good for such a long album, and one consisting of outtakes no less. For any Killers fan, Sawdust is a must buy, and even if you haven’t enjoyed the bands previous work, this may just change your mind.