I’ll never forget the summer the Killers broke. Not so much because I loved them – at the time, I spent my musical interludes trawling through the back catalogues of At the Drive-In and Bad Religion – but because the almost universal appeal of debut Hot Fuss meant the Vegas act came to represent one of the best summers of my life. ‘Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll’ met cider in the park met music festivals, sun holidays and the kind of ‘work’ environment that’s biggest stress involved taking a pay cheque to the bank. Oh, for such heady days.
Of course, trends never last, and neither did the Killers’ hype. To start out with, though, they really were the buzz band. They played the boozer at my campus student union in 2003, shortly before the release of Hot Fuss, and made such an impact that a couple of months later the university distinguished itself by being perhaps the only university in the UK that’s biggest activist campaign of the year was to bring back an indie rock band. So much for changing the world: my world just wanted to bounce to ‘Mr. Brightside’ and give tone-deaf ode to our friend Jenny.
It’s hard to pinpoint where things went wrong, but they did. Perhaps it was in follow up Sam’s Town, an album that sold a whole heap of copies but always seemed a bit over-egged next to the debut, and launched into a market utterly saturated with indie (in that strange genre sense, in which it means anything but independent) pop. Day & Age‘s ‘Human’, of course, didn’t help, even if those notoriously dodgy human/dancer lyrics were actually a Hunter S. Thompson reference that passed most by. The Killers were still selling out stadiums, but the damage – at least in the eyes of the ‘music as a fashion’ clique – had been done.
The low, perhaps, was Brandon Flowers solo outings. Intentional or not, the album , Flamingo, had the unfortunate sense that Flowers was trying too hard to get on point. With synthpop en vogue, the frontman’s solo efforts walked up that alleyway in the most obvious way possible, and while his distinctive vocals still drew comparisons with his band, this had a real air of bandwagon-jumping; of trying to grab another wave like the one that drove Hot Fuss to the top of the charts.
It might be too far to say the album was an aberration, but it certainly wasn’t one that had us pinning album art to our walls. Perhaps the fall out and Flowers’ solo mis-steps are where today starts to make sense. The Killers won’t ride one of those waves again, as Kings of Leon learnt around about the time of pigeon-gate, and U2 might have clocked when Bono’s politics became as talked about as his music. You can never return to the role of unknown newcomers clawing in a summer they’ll come to represent, and with the Killers it sometimes felt like that hurt. Recently, perhaps having accepted their diminished ‘hip’ status, the Vegas stars have seemed more like a band just being themselves. Finally, after the synth outtakes, left-field lyrics and car-crash dance tracks, the direction seems to be the most natural one.
The evidence? Aside from just musicality (Battle Born is arguably the Killers best-reviewed album this side of the pond since Hot Fuss, and certainly the first time they’ve piqued my interest again), the tone seeps from their interviews. Flowers recently told Stereogum that the band would be afraid to play their songs in a bar. He was getting at the scale of the stadium-rock production, and he has a point: the band simply fit their current environment. In the same interview, Dave Keuning even admitted that writing the biggest songs they can is untrendy, but “We can’t all just be super-cool bands that stare at their shoes”.
Returning to what they have always been is not going to win the Killers universal acclaim, of course, but how many can claim to have that? The Killers aren’t suited to the likes of Electric Picnic, as the emphatic, Sheeran-esque negativity surrounding their announcement in 2012 showed. Nor are they the best band ever to have set foot in Ireland, as some particularly over-the-top reviews have suggested (yes, subjective, we know, but still…), but they are a top-class stadium-rock band unafraid to reel out crowd-pleasing hit after hit.
That honesty has come with a new openness, too. Flowers’ interviews suddenly seem more personal, not least when he talks about Mormonism (which – no judgement – he doubtlessly knows is about as rock and roll as washing the bat blood of Mr Osbourne’s shirt), and Keuning recently admitted the band started because he lost his job.
The Killers left their previously derided Electric Picnic slot with largely good reviews for the simple reason that they did what they do well, and they did it honestly. We could never prove conclusively that fashion is what drove those earlier asides. What seems blindingly obvious, though, is a band can only be at their peak when they write the music they truly love. Affectionate reports from Wembley and a hit album suggest the Killers, after ten long years of musical redirection, are once again the band they set out to be in the first place.
The Killers play Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Saturday, 13th July, with support from Frank Ocean, Haim and Two Door Cinema Club. Tickets cost €61.50 (plus booking fees) and are available from Ticketmaster and all the usual oulets.