The Killers are a big arena rock band. I’m not sure how that happened. Yes their first album Hot Fuss is a classic of the dance-pop hybrid, yes vocalist Brandon Flowers has a unique delivery, but when did they get so huge? Their sophomore album Sam’s Town borrowed heavily from Springsteen style Americana storytelling, while 2008’s “Day And Age” found the killers getting in touch with their inner David Bowie and perhaps a touch of Quicksilver Messenger Service. So when did that weird amalgam of styles start packing in arena crowds?
I ask this because the band’s newest album, Battle Born, finally takes all that The Killers have done before, combines it with Flowers’ solo work and spits out their first all encompassing record. Lead single “Runaways” harkens back to their Sam’s Town era, holding fast to patterns of Bruce Springsteen and the story of a man trying to support his family. The chorus is huge, the exact type of thing you’d expect to blast out of an arena with lighters (or these days cellphones) held high.
“The Way It Was” is another arena contender, this time the ballad in the vein of Foreigner or Air Supply as sung by Roxy Music. “Here With Me” is the Billy Joel and/or Elton John slow jam. It’s epic, with the piano line acting as the melancholy anchor holding Flowers voice, which tends to soar high almost instantly, closer to the ground. “Matter Of Time” is the band’s more straightforward rock jam, though it relies on eerie backing “woahs” as well as a haunted keyboard line. “Deadlines And Commitments” is one of the better tracks on the record. A mid-tempo driving song that places the tribal drums and down beat keyboards against Flowers’ full and up beat voice. “From Here On Out” is another up-tempo rock jam.
What’s interesting about Battle Born is how Flowers holds his country-singer core tightly within the center of every song. No matter how dance oriented or poppy the tunes get, the fact that Flowers’ wants to be a country singer weighted down with life regret burns through everything. He was allowed to expand those ideas more on his solo album Las Vegas and he keeps them close to his chest throughout Battle Born. With all the varied combinations of what The Killers have accomplished and the more focused songwriting filter, Battle Born comes across like they’ve found their identity, though in sections they are still battling the shadow of U2.
Now the bad news. Battle Born, while a good record for what it is, has some missteps. First, too many ballads and too many slow tempo sad songs. I get that Flowers’ wants to share with us the weight of his world, but these guys can kick out some rockers, why not give us at least one or two more. The second issue is the filler. The album is thirteen tracks but should have been ten. Songs like “Be Still” and “Heart Of A Girl” fall absolutely flat as does “Miss Atomic Bomb”. Another epic tune about “that girl” from the past? Spare me. With ten songs Battle Born would be a nice slice of The Killers abilities. With thirteen it starts to teeter dangerously close to bloated rock star ego.
This also doesn’t have a “that song” on it. The one song that will carry the album to greatness. Nothing on Battle Born is bad, it just never rises above itself to really deliver any standout tracks. The fans of the band will love this album as they do their other records. They will pack the stadiums and buy the T-shirts and drink in every lyric Flowers sings attempting to identify it to their lives. For the rest of us, we may nod along or enjoy a few tunes here and there but otherwise it will get filed away as another album from a band who does good work but we don’t listen to all that much if it all.