Vegas-based quartet The Killers had a good year in 2004. They lit up the music scene with their hugely popular debut, Hot Fuss, with lead singer Brandon Flowers making the ladies swoon with his dreamy vocals, stylish duds and, of course, that eyeliner. Now two years later, we have the synth-heavy follow-up, Sam’s Town, in which Flowers and gang have ditched their pretty-boy looks in favor of a scruffier, dirtier image. Their appearance may have improved, but the music is a significant downgrade from their debut.
The album’s first single, “When You Were Young,” is a showy mixture of crashing drums and tight guitar licks. Flowers’ obsession with good-looking boys (recall the “boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend” from Fuss’s “Somebody Told Me”) continues as he sings about a “beautiful boy” who “doesn’t look a thing like Jesus.” His voice is thin and quivery through the whole song (and most of the album), a trait that was thankfully absent on Hot Fuss. The song certainly grows more appealing after repeated listens, but Flowers’s odd vocal presentation is unattractive and distracting.
Pumping bass and heavy, propulsive drums make “Sam’s Town” a solid opener. The danceable beat and layered vocals are a welcome addition that help mask that ever-present Flowers quiver. The sentimental violin at the end adds a nice touch, as does the background noise, presumably from Sam’s Town casino in Vegas.
The work of producers Alan Mould and Flood (Depeche Mode, U2) is most evident on “For Reasons Unknown” and “Bones.” “Reasons” is dark and haunting, reminiscent of Depeche Mode circa 1990’s Violator. But the lyrics are repetitive and lame (“I pack my case / I check my face / I look a little bit older / I look a little bit colder”), which sheds the track of most of its appeal. “Bones” is better by comparison, and the varying tones and styles of the vocals should be enough to hold attention throughout, but there’s one bone that should be picked (pun intended) with Flowers regarding this song. He claims that he “never had soul,” but on Fuss’s “All These Things That I’ve Done,” Flowers repeatedly blurts that he’s “got soul.” Maybe the recording of Sam’s Town caused him to lose it.
The end of “The River is Wild” has Flowers doing his best Jim Morrison impression as he recites some sentimental piece about headlights while piano softly accompanies him. The U2 sound is alive and well on “Read My Mind,” with lush orchestration and catchy keyboard lines, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Bookending Sam’s Town are two ridiculous filler tracks, “Enterlude” at the opening and “Exitlude” at the album’s close. Flowers sings “It’s good to have you with us even if it’s just for the day” on “Enterlude” while the whole band joins in on the same line on “Exitlude.” These tracks are pointless and embarrassing, with lyrics drawn straight out of Mr. Roger’s book on polite manners.
Hot Fuss boasted several obvious hits, daring lyrics and a front man with style. Unfortunately, with Sam’s Town the band lose of all of the above. In an interview with NME magazine, Flowers claimed that Sam’s Town is “one of the best albums in the past 20 years.” Ha.
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars