Along with bands like Kasabian, Keane and the Kaiser Chiefs, the Killers wed post-glam rock Bowie to the strained alienation of bands like New Order and the Cure. So thorough was their desire to mine the mid-80’s, MTV poses and all, that they even took their name from the fictional house band in a New Order video.
The Killers’ first release, “Hot Fuss,” yielded the hits “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside,” and earned the band four Grammies. “Sam’s Town” is a bit of a style change – lead singer Brandon Flowers’ grew a mustache, and the rest of the band looks like a late version of REO Speedwagon. The musical shift is less jarring, however, than the casting off of shiny suit jackets for plaid shirts and facial hair.
The new record owes its spirit to mid-70’s touchstones like “Born to Run” and “Bat Out of Hell.” But on “Sam’s Town,” the Killers sound more like Queen than the King or the Boss; Flowers’ falsetto-vocal flourishes won’t draw many Springsteen comparisons. Still, the nostalgic longing of songs like the title cut and “When You Were Young” do evoke a mid-70’s feel.
It most closely hews to this sensibility on “Bones,” which, despite dimwitted lyrics (“don’t you want to feel my bones/on your bones/it’s only natural”), is a decent homage to “Thunder Road.” The horn section adds a nice touch as well. It flies off into space eventually, with glittery synth-pop swamping the heartland feel of the song’s intro.
The disc’s lead track, “Sam’s Town,” mimics the E Street Band’s wall of sound at the outset, and then melds Roxy Music’s insouciance to its construction. “Running through my veins, an American masquerade,” trills Flowers. It’s the biggest, and best, moment of the record.
But a few spins of this disk will find most listeners thinking more about platform shoes then beat up Converse All-Stars. That’s not a complaint, actually. The Killers nimble feat – a Las Vegas band aping British pop from across the ocean – is a sort of “Muswell Hillbillies” in reverse. It works almost as well as the Kinks’ far-away take on Americana did 30 years ago.
“For Reasons Unknown” employs the piano-slapping blues-rock of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way From Memphis.” In “Bling (Confessions of a King),” Flowers imagines himself “running with the Devil” and getting “my glory in the desert rain” as he heads for the horizon in search of adventure. But despite the windswept tableau, much of the ride and the view seem to be from the back of a limousine, not the shiny bike Flowers was likely imagining.