The Killers, ‘Battle Born’ – Album Review
With arena-rock choruses and anthems as flashy as his hometown of Las Vegas, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers has fashioned himself to be something of a glam-pop Bruce Springsteen. In that way, ‘Battle Born,’ the first we’ve heard from the band in four years, is an epically masculine, unapologetically dramatic, thoroughly enjoyable listen — if you can get over the fact that it’s really, really cheesy.
The thing about the Killers is they’re resolutely maximal. That single that broke them back in the day, ‘Mr. Brightside,’ was plenty over the top, and with each subsequent release, they’ve only grown more outsized. ‘Battle Born’ is their biggest yet.
That much is obvious by glancing at the airbrushed cover. On a vaguely futuristic highway landscape, a dark horse is about to collide with a muscle car. Why the hell not?
When it gets big, it gets really big. Take, for instance, the shotgun-wedding power ballad ‘Runaways,’ with nice lines like, “I got a tendency to slip when the nights get wild,” or the John Mellancamp camp of the country-infused ‘From Here On Out,’ which includes the words “your quarterback smile and crocodile tears.” Then there’s the sure-to-be-coopted-by-Romney call-to-arms of the title track, which comes with the choice phrasing, “From the blue ridge to the black hills to the redwood sky / the seasons may pass but the dream doesn’t die.” These are stadium-fillers, more Meat Loaf than U2, ready to be cranked up with the windows down.
And when it gets soft, it gets really soft. The balladeering is off the charts, most notably on ‘Heart of a Girl,’ a comparatively minimalist composition that’s all bass lines, soft plucks and shakers. Again, Flowers, reminisces about romances past, and this time, he’s arguably at his most charming: “She wrote her number down and gave it to me / they had to scrape me off the floor.” Other paeans don’t quite pack the same punch. ‘Here With Me’ earns a cringe with, “I don’t want your picture on my cell phone / I want you here with me,” and for all Flowers’ assurances, ‘Be Still’ winds up feeling tired. The positivity’s much more positive on ‘Deadlines and Commitments,’ whose broad-winged chorus stirs the grumpiest of spirits.
What, then, are the themes of ‘Battle Born?’ It’s about going for it. It’s about not stopping now. It’s about love. It’s about life. It’s about death. It’s about America. There’s earnestness here, but not in your standard indie Bon Iver plaid-itudes. This is Vegas-raised showmanship. Flowers and his band have approximated their idols, Mr. Springsteen and Sir Elton, and in doing so, they’ve created an absurd, as well as transcendent, sound.