The Killers return to the '80s ... again

BY MIKE KUNTZ
For the Daily
Published November 25, 2008

The Killers
Day & Age
Island

Courtesy of Island

3 out of 5 Stars

Brandon Flowers would love for you to believe that his band, The Killers, is the most important act around. With towering choruses and soaring arrangements that try so hard to give the Romeo-in-rags-themed ballads a sense of purpose, almost every song by the Las Vegas quartet seems larger than life.

But with lyrics constantly exploring penniless small-town glories and choruses ready-made for fist-pumping fans, it’s hard not to crack a smile at the irony of the million-dollar pop production that bathes each Killers song.

Since the release of 2004’s Hot Fuss, Flowers and the gang have had a merciless obsession with the music of the ’80s. The band draws as much from the poignant narratives of Springsteen and playful warbles of David Byrne as from the dance pop of Duran Duran and New Order. With Day & Age, the band takes a bolder step into the past, employing countless layers of pristine production to give the album's revivalist dance-rock a surprisingly fresh sheen.

Day & Age follows the more daring moments of 2006’s Sam’s Town and elevates them to uncharted highs. Broadening the band's instrumentation with prominent saxophone on album opener “Losing Touch” and pleasantly sprinkling steel drums over the world-beat-tinged track “I Can’t Stay,” the Killers expand beyond their synth-pop horizons.

Flowers’ examination of modernity pervades the album, providing a thematic backdrop that gives Day & Age more continuity than their previous releases. In the resigned philosophizing of “The World We Live In,” Flowers croons “This is the world we live in / We can’t go back.” On the album’s lead single, “Human,” Flowers attempts to shed new meaning on Hunter S. Thompson’s complaint that the complacent youth of his time are “a generation of dancers.” The song, though, contains a driving backbeat questioning whether it’s really that bad to be a “dancer” in the first place.

Even with signs of new lyrical direction, it’s painfully clear that Flowers can’t completely divorce himself from the dusty street themes of Bruce Springsteen. His Boss obsession is never more apparent than on “A Dustland Fairytale.” It's a slower, more serious ballad with Cinderella as protagonist and it features a familiar we-gotta-get-outta-this-town-babe aesthetic. Flowers’s attempt at epic songwriting continues with “Goodnight, Travel Well,” with a hushed lost-in-space symphony supporting floppy lyrics like “The universe is standing still / There’s nothing I can say / There’s nothing we can do now.”

Despite these stale regressions, the band still proves it can have some fun. The band is at its best with tales of alien abduction on “Spacemen.” It moves from lighthearted beckoning to “Make some noise!” on MGMT-inspired album standout “Neon Tiger.”

With the album's unrestrained use of super-sized synths that buzz and hum behind pounding, flamboyant disco beats, it almost seems like The Killers were attempting some kind of tongue-in-cheek parody of epic movie soundtracks. But if Flowers has made one thing clear over the years, it’s that he takes The Killers’ dance-rock incredibly seriously and implores you to do the same. Behind the flamboyant fur capes and feathers adorning Flowers in the “Human” music video lies the undeniable desire for the band's music to resonate deeply with its audience.

The Killers’ attraction to unabashed musical excess shows in how they saturates the new album's songs with over-the-top saccharine-sweet production. The adventurous strokes of Day & Age do much to advance the band's desire to create “epic” music, and, just as the ’80s attempted to prove, sometimes too much can be a good thing.