The final track of The Killers’ sophomore release has lead singer Brandon Flowers, backed by his own echoing vocals, wistfully reciting, “We hope you enjoyed your stay. It’s good to have you with us. Even if it’s just for a day.” Sorry Mr. Flowers, but these feelings aren’t mutual.
On their latest release, “Sam’s Town,” The Killers choose to betray everything that once characterized their personal style and collective sound, and instead opt for something entirely new. Gone is the brit-esque pop. Gone are the white suits. Gone are their fresh faces offset by heavy black eyeliner. Now they’re repping the look and feel of four guys caught in an awkward hole caught somewhere between the wild wild west and 80’s new wave. Unfortunately for them, the product doesn’t quite work.
The problem with “Sam’s Town” is not that the foursome choose to adopt Americana, but rather that they confront the genre in a relatively careless and incomplete manner. The album’s title track is all over the place; it begins as a swooping tour de force of rich strings then regrettably descends into a dissonant mixture of pulsing synthesizers and insistent bass — and that’s before Flowers’ off-key vocals appear. About two minutes into the song, things begin to pick up again with a very Hot Fussy combination of effervescent back up and impassioned vocals before crashing in on itself in the final minute of the song.
The Killers sound best when they stick to the synth pop that typified “Hot Fuss,” but there is a severe dearth of it on “Town”. The album’s first single, “When You Were Young,” combines their new and old styles quite well. Their new influences are evident — the band delivers grandiose instrumentals crashing together beneath Flowers’ take on Bono’s distinctive combination of delicate staccato and ardent chanting.
Comparing the cover and liner art for the two Killers albums tells you everything you need to know about the transformation that the band has undergone. Whereas “Hot Fuss” is pristine, if not sterile, “Sam’s Town” is dusty and overrun with weeds. On the first record, the band wore chic white, now they seem to prefer black long johns from the American Frontier. Their music is proof that this new image isn’t at all convincing. The new, though not improved, Killers lack a place to call home and a sound to define them.
The album is by no means bad, but The Killers have fallen into a definite sophomore slump. Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs, and the large sound they aspired to replicate falls pathetically flat. Maybe this genre doesn’t work for them. Maybe they need more space and time to grow. Maybe the Killers peaked on their first album, and there’s no reason to make a hot fuss over them again.