It’s a story that we’ve become all too used to over the years, a band makes a huge impact with an album (often their debut) and then struggles to match it. Each time they come back, however, the talk is all about a return to form and how this is the record to re-establish their credentials. It rarely is. As careers wind on, not many bands (U2, Green Day and a few others) have managed to halt a downward creative slide, even temporarily. Now it’s the turn of The Killers. Hardly an act in commercial crisis, nevertheless if their recent Electric Picnic headline slot proved anything, it was that people love the songs from Hot Fuss above all others. It doesn’t help that, while Sam’s Town had its moments, third album Day & Age was an absolute turkey.
So here we are at Battle Born, already being described as, yes, a return to form. It really isn’t. While Brandon Flowers’ solo jaunt (especially a spirited Oxegen performance) managed to take the band’s widescreen American sound and do something fresh and new with it, The Killers Vol 4 is a hollow, unsatisfactory addition to their catalogue. It needn’t have been that way. ‘Flesh & Bone’ is an oddly stirring opening, leading into the Bruce Springsteen parody / tribute ‘Runaways’. Neither are particularly groundbreaking but are delivered with enough conviction to get away with it.
It only takes a few moments to bring the whole thing crashing down. ‘The Way It Was’ is dreadful, MOR rubbish and ‘Here With Me’ is even worse, as bad as you might expect from any song with the lyric “I don’t want your picture on my cell phone, I want you here with me”. Sadly, Battle Born doesn’t get any better from here. Lowlights are hard to pin down, but ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ is particularly tough and while ‘The Rising Tide’ attempts to bring an edge to the album’s sound (cue noisy, out of place guitar solo), it’s thwarted by syrupy backing vocals.
Battle Born ends, however, as it begins by rising to the level of mediocre. ‘From Here On Out’ has a classic Tom Petty feel to it – although obviously not as good – and the title track closes the album in ridiculously overblown fashion, at least carrying a conviction that the majority of the record is woefully short of. It’s not the misplaced change of direction of Day & Age, but perhaps the fact that Battle Born falls so short when the band are playing to their supposed strengths (and with the help of five big name producers) is even more worrying. “You can’t stop now”, sings Flowers on the final track but if that’s the case for The Killers, they’ve left themselves with a long way go to make it back.