The first inkling I got that the Killers were on the way back was watching them on the tellybox at Glastonbury absolutely tearing through ‘Mr. Brightside’. It was such a standout performance that I was suddenly struck by how good the Killers used to be. Brandon Flowers was bristling with energy and singing as if it was the last song he would ever sing and the band were with him every step of the way, seemingly reborn and ready to rule again.
Then I heard there was a new album coming followed by the inevitable world tour. Then I heard that half of the band would be replaced by session musicians who have been touring with the expanded Killers live set-up for the last number of years. Flowers assured everyone there was nothing to worry about, we still had him and Ronnie behind the drums and the other two were still in the Killers, just not right now.
Then I heard the lead single ‘The Man’. All hip shake and swagger. Clearly influenced and maybe even left over from one of Flowers’ solo albums incorporating a Kool & the Gang sample to boot. I was encouraged. In preparation I went back and listened to the old albums. Hot Fuss, Sam’s Town and Sawdust got the full listen and registered quite high on the dewy-eyed-nostalgia scale. I skimmed through Day and Age and managed to listen to two songs from Battle Born then couldn’t listen to anymore.
For a band who hit the stratosphere before their first album even came out, it was always going to be hard for the Killers to maintain their place in a rock/pop landscape that has irrevocably changed over the 14 years (!) that has passed since the release of Hot Fuss.
Against this background, I approached their new long-player Wonderful Wonderful with a mixture of hope and trepidation. The opening title track is a slow burner that promises much but doesn’t quite deliver. The third track ‘Rut’ sounds like a recently unearthed remnant from the Phil Collins penned Tarzan Soundtrack. It isn’t until we get to ‘Run For Cover’ that I sit up and take notice. It’s the Killers of old, with Flowers sounding much more at home than he does on some of the other tracks on the album, with a chorus that has echoes of their best work.
‘Tyson vs Douglas’ sounds ok, but best not to listen to the lyrics. Flowers rhyming cost with lost, and real with feel among others, it’s not his best work, but the chorus does a good job of pulling it back from the brink. ‘The Calling’ opens with Woody Harrelson reading from the bible (yes really) and then goes on to build a ‘personal jesus-lite’ groove, before opening out into what we now recognise as a Killers chorus.
Wonderful Wonderful is the sound of a band trying to preserve its’ legacy while at the same time trying to remain relevant. Uber-producer Jacknife Lee was brought in to produce and as is often the case with him at the controls everything sounds great, but this can sometimes be to the detriment of the song, smoothing out the rough edges and removing a sense of urgency or immediacy that music sometimes needs and thrives on.
The Killers have written some great songs, but not this time around. They have some good songs in ‘The Man’ and ‘Run For Cover’. There are some good moments in other songs here, but as a body of work and collection of songs it falls short. It’s no ‘Hot Fuss’, but no ‘Battle Born’ either and that has to count for something? Right?