Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The Killers - Sam's Town
I really wanted to hate this album. After all the press and praise surrounding their debut album, Hot Fuss, The Killers kind of blew up. They were everywhere. Suddenly, without warning, Brandon Flowersssss had become Bono. You couldn’t escape them. Even a year and a half after its release, there was still no slowing them down. Flowerssss starting talking smack to the emo bands and fellow nu-new-wavers, insulting them, their music, and, I assume, their mothers.
Then came talk of a new album. They changed their look. Instead of the made-up glam look we were used to, the new photo shoots had them unshaven with long hair. Instead of pink suits Flowerssss seemed more at home with jeans and a bolo tie over his western-style shirts. They name-checked Springsteen like it was going out of style. And they weren’t in the least bit likeable.
The Saturday before this album was released (that would be last Saturday, for you all keeping track), they played a set on SNL. New look. New music. And, apparently, they picked up Wayne and Garth’s cameraman to play guitar for them, which is pretty cool. And they weren’t really very good.
And yet, through all of this, I was still excited about the new album. Looking forward to it, no matter how much I didn’t want to be.
The album itself seems to be a feeble attempt at a concept album. You’re introduced into this world in the first song, “Sam’s Town”. There is then a short, less-than-a-minute track called “enterlude”, where Flowersss proclaims over a piano line, “We hope you enjoy your stay/It’s good to have you with us even if it’s just for the day”. Then it kicks into the album, or, I suppose, into the town. What follows are half (or full) narrative songs about, I suppose, Sam’s Town. At the very end of the album, they bid us farewell with “exitlude”, where they thank us for stopping by. The end. The only problem? None of the tracks are tied together at all, except, I suppose, by a very thin line. Someone forgot to tell them that, if you’re going to make a concept album, you actually have to have a concept.
Yet now, as I sit here listening to the album, I forget about all that stuff. I don’t care what they said, who they said it to, or how much they desperately tried to be different on this album, or tried to force it to be something it’s not. All I really care about, at this moment, is how good this album is.
Is there a misstep here or there? Oh…of course there is. Songs like “For Reasons Unknown”, “Read My Mind”, and “Uncle Jonny” are not the best of songs by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it sounds a bit too much like they’re trying to be Springsteen…caring more about that than actually writing a good song. But, even in those songs, there’s still something good.
But, for the most part, this is a very solid, extremely listenable album. The Killers are still very much stuck in the 80s, only they’re hitting the rock side of the spectrum on this album. Some of the synth lines are very much nods to that era (at least once I thought they were going to kick into The Dire Strait’s “Walk of Life”, but, unfortunately, they did not). And, with lyrics like “We're burning down the highway skyline/On the back of a hurricane” and references to running with the devil, it seems like they’re blatantly ripping off the imagery used so often by The Boss and The Coug. But, somehow, they have put their own stamp on it, making it seem like it was their idea and style all along.
The Killers themselves show how much they have grown as a band since their last album. Flowersss has shown much more vocal range on this album than their previous one, while guitarist Dave Keuning has helped them to pull out of their new-wave/glam-rock image with some very convincing guitar work.
I think my favorite part of this album is how often the chorus’ turn into sing-a-longs involving the entire group, and, I assume, everyone who listens to it. Songs like “Uncle Jonny”, “My List”, “Why Do I Keep Counting?” are among those that almost sound like they were recorded in a bar at happy hour, with the masses singing at the top of their lungs. There’s a sense of camaraderie in those songs, and also a sense of fun, which I suppose is what draws me to them. It’s nice to see a band not feeling the pressure on a highly anticipated second album. So many artists seem concerned with the sophomore slump, and they fold under that pressure. The Killers seemed to have bucked that pressure by changing a bit (but not too much), and having fun with it. I’m very excited to see what they do next. If this album is any indication, I think we should continue to see great things from The Killers with each release.
Essential Tracks: “Sam’s Town”, “Bones”, “My List”
Favorite Tracks: “When You Were Young”, “Bling (Confessions of a King)”, “Why Do I Keep Counting?”