The mordant sound of what appears to be one of those ancient computer tennis games from the seventies intros Flesh and Bone, the opening track on The Killers’ first album in four years. Hang on! I thought they’d dropped the “disco s***”?
Disco s*** is, of course, what critics called the Killers' last album Day & Age but you can imagine a man as comically uncool as Brandon Flowers also using the expression to explain away his band's ill-fated flirtation with electronics and dance beats.
So no more disco s*** but The Killers have also decided to drop any semblance of cool, originality or subtly on this train wreck of a record. They are back doing what they do pretty well – blazing guitars, bluster and dumbness. Battle Born gets its name from the legend on the corner of the Nevada state flag and it’s that feeling of a United States of America forged in the foundry of manifest destiny that gives this album its over-reaching hugeness. Every chorus, every guitar solo and every lyric is designed for maximum stadium wallop and a scope that yearns to encompass the whole range of the American experience itself.
On their universally-adored debut Hot Fuss, Flowers had a gift for penning brilliant, twitchy songs loaded with vulnerability. There was something obsessive and weird about The Killers (Mr Brightside et al). They were losers; now they’re glorious losers streaked in petrol, sweat, and blood. Battle Born is full of small town dreamers ready to bust out and hit the road, bound for glory. That’s Bruce Springsteen venerated once more but The Killers matching passion and worship of U2 sees them hire producers Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite for Battle Born in much the same way poor, well-meaning Coldplay invited Brian Eno into their fold.
While Lilywhite does his usual solid job at providing a cool, clean-lined guitar rock sound, Lanois’ influence is harder to detect. The one song The Killers wrote with him is possibly the best thing on Battle Born, but Heart of a Girl sounds remarkably like Sweet Jane by Lou Reed and Flowers’ talk of staring down “the mouth of a hundred thousand guns” and “rivers flowing to wide open seas” is cringe inducing.
Elsewhere, his face is “flashing crimson from the fires of hell” and he ponders why “This natural selection picked me out to be a dark horse running in a fantasy.” So that's creationism dealt with too. On Runaways, the most Bruce-like thing here, “There’s a picture of us on our wedding day I recognise the groom but I can’t settle in these walls.” On the admittedly rather good title track, Flowers delivers his own euglogy to America, “from the Blue Ridge to the Black Hills to the Redwood sky” with massed harmonies that sound like they’re from booming straight from a seventies fm radio station.
There used to be something naively passionate about The Killers, an endearing geekiness that made it hard not be swept away by the momentum but even for a band who deal in bombast and cliché, this is dull stuff indeed. The album's cover art features a painting of a horse galloping towards a speeding car. Is this a philosophical comment about the battle between nature and technology or perhaps a reference to how the west was won only be supplanted by greed and ostentation?
Hell no - it just looks good in a dopey kind of way. Which is precisely how The Killers sound.