Monday, June 14

The Killers: Imploding the Mirage review – Boss business as usual | Music

The thing that strikes you as unusual about the latest Killers album is that it sounds just like a Killers album. It’s all here: the boosterish anthemics that rise, soar and then find another gear; the swagger of Springsteen cutting some rug at an indie disco; the Christian-adjacent uplift that singer Brandon Flowers channels much as Coldplay’s Chris Martin or U2’s Bono have before him. In allegedly lean times for guitar bands, a Killers juggernaut was ready to be rolled out on a global stadium tour, this growing outfit’s biggest yet. That’s postponed until 2021 because of you-know-what.

The fact that Imploding the Mirage sounds like the Killers is no mean feat, however. They may be a festival-headlining behemoth, but they remain deeply fractured; the sessions for this, the Killers’ sixth album, were long and vexed. The dramatis personae who eventually put Imploding the Mirage together were many and varied, often sourced from the cooler parts of LA.

Lion-maned drummer Ronnie Vannucci and ageless Mormon pin-up Flowers are all that’s left of the Killers’ original lineup. Somewhere around the chart-topping comeback that was Wonderful Wonderful (2017), the Killers mislaid their guitarist Dave Keuning, a schism that is often a band’s undoing. Keuning put the ad in the Las Vegas wanted pages that Brandon Flowers answered in 2001; they co-wrote the band’s very first song, the masterful 00s ode to jealousy Mr Brightside; Keuning remains on a solo walkabout. Bassist Mark Stoermer, meanwhile, retains an amicable part-time contribution to these 10 new songs.

Flowers and Vannucci maintain that the door is open for both to return. Meantime, the list of collaborators sticking their oar in the band’s sound is long and often stellar. First, the wheelhouse: Foxygen multi-instrumentalist and Weyes Blood producer Jonathan Rado co-produces, and emerges from this album with his reputation enhanced. Blake Mills and Shawn Everett, excellent midwives of much fine indie Americana, figure too.

How weird does it get under the hood? Someone had the nuts idea of sampling Neu! and Can on the very same song. After the motorik beat ushers us in, Dying Breed turns into a pretty textbook Killers tune about being dependable in the face of adversity. Another track, Fire in Bone, tilts unexpectedly at Talking Heads funk. If it’s lurid – the Killers are nothing if not loud – it’s an intriguing change of pace nonetheless.

Such is the Killers’ reach, they can call up Lindsey Buckingham, on his own vexed hiatus from Fleetwood Mac, to sort out a guitar line on Caution, the album’s big yolo holler of a single. The song tells the tale of a Vegas dancer’s daughter trying to exit sin city (or “burn it down”).

It’s hard to fault the Boss-level show-not-tell here, as Flowers relays how this flawed but sympathetic character hates birthdays because “they remind her of why/ She can go straight from zero/ To the fourth of July”.

Flowers, of course, has himself finally left the band’s native Las Vegas for a new life in Utah with his family, a move prompted by his wife’s unhappy early life. Tana Mundkowsky looms large in the Killers story, especially in Flowers’s latterday writing. Wonderful Wonderful expressly addressed its songs of succour to her ongoing PTSD.

Watch a video for Caution from the Killers’ new album, Imploding the Mirage.

Imploding the Mirage, the band say, is a record that recaptures joy in the wake of the family’s move. “It’s like a weight has been lifted,” runs a central lyric from My God, a stomping track that finds Weyes Blood doing her best leftfield disco diva warble. Lightning Fields boasts some graceful, refracted piano phrases and more Weyes Blood backing vocals; kd lang’s dulcet tones enliven one verse. Oh and producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Vampire Weekend, Flowers’s 2015 solo album) is here, as is one of the Lemon Twigs.

The organising principle remains heartland Americana with a mirrorball sheen; but you suspect that everything had to change in order for the Killers to stay the same. The band hit on peak 80s Springsteen as a rich source around Sam’s Town (2006), an era when few other big guitar bands were mining it. Since then, the War on Drugs went big on the Boss on their 2014 album Lost in the Dream. And yes, an appearance from WoD’s Adam Granduciel closes the circle of fandom.

What the Killers have yet to learn from the later Springsteen is subtlety. If bombast is not your thing, this is not your band. Imploding the Mirage says some nuanced things, but very loudly.

The best things about Flowers’s writing are twofold: the upfront carpe diem spirit here, best captured in lines such as: “We’re all gonna die!” And then there are the more elegant turns of storytelling: “I was a timid, Rockwellian boy/ She was tattooed and ready to deploy.” There is enough good writing here to justify all the volume, just about.

So despite all the guests and detours (a Frankie Knuckles sample? Sure), we remain much as we were with the Killers, uplifting and crescendo-ing, heeding our own soul’s warnings, being true and, perhaps most winningly, taking solace from how the people in Flowers’s songs take big chances – if not the Killers themselves.

Watch the video for My Own Soul’s Warning by the Killers

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