The Killers – Battle Born (album) (Island / Universal Music Group)
It has been four years since the Las Vegas quartet released their last record, ‘Day and Age’ and expectations were understandably high following the announcement of ‘Battle Born’.
The first single ‘Runaways’ (read review) was released in July and was a brilliant return to form, a seemingly instant Killers classic with a Rick Springfield meets The Cars meets Cheap Trick vibe.
‘Battle Born’ is a much more consistent record than ‘Day and Age’, however if there’s one gripe about their latest album it’s that it has risks sounding a little too MOR, as if the band has spent time down in Nashville becoming “better songwriters”. With no less than four record producers, Brendan O’ Brien (Pearl Jam/Soundgarden/ Incubus), Steve Lilywhite (U2/Simple Minds/Dave Matthews Band), Damian Taylor (Bjork/The Prodigy), and Stuart Price (who produced the band’s previous album ‘Day and Age’), all taking turns, it feels a world away from the band’s “indie rock n’ roll” beginnings.
Yes, gone are The Killers indie-rock days, however say what you like but one thing you can’t accuse them of is releasing the same record over. Their debut ‘Hot Fuss’ was a truly brilliant, era defining indie-rock album, which arguably reintroduced the world to 80’s new-wave and made 80’s “cool” again. ‘Sam’s Town’ was another brilliant album, a Vegas concept album of sorts, with hints of The Beatles but more prominently Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Bruce Springsteen. ‘Day and Age’ was a little hit or miss and more of a mixed bag with an array of sounds and influences, sharing most in common with Duran Duran.
‘Battle Born’ is very much a guitar driven album focused on Brandon Flowers great storytelling style songwriting (the album’s strongest point). The kitsch 80’s influences and keyboard sounds that usually characterize the band (think “Smile Like You Mean It”) have been replaced with an 80’s MOR pop-rock influence.
One of The Killers’ greatest attributes however is the uplifting and nostalgic qualities that emanate from their music – anthems that conjure images, memories and feelings of love, loss, joy, heartbreak, youth, and post-adolesence. There are several songs that recall these feelings and they are the album’s greatest moments. Even when the song is amiss the emotion is still sincere and ‘Battle Born’ is the band’s most heartfelt record to date; just listen to the gorgeous and incredibly moving “Be Here” – arguably the album’s finest track.
Opening track “Flesh and Bone” features almost all the reasons why we love The Killers and is one of the album’s best songs, a soon to be fan favourite and live-set staple for years to come. The previously mentioned “Runaways” follows on perfectly and really is the only song on the album that stands strongly alongside classics like “Human”, “When You Were Young“, “Somebody Told Me”, or “Mr. Brightside”.
“The Way It Was” comes next and is surely the album’s next single; a solid anthemic pop-track, which in all honesty would have been more at home on Brandon Flowers’ solo record, ‘Flamingo’. The first three tracks share similar influences, resulting in a consistent and brilliant start and at this point ‘Battle Born’ is shaping up to be a mighty return to form. From here however things start to move into a more MOR direction.
“Here With Me” pulls on the heartstrings with its pop sentimentality sounding like Roxette meets Meatloaf with guitar chords ringing out over the top of a huge vocal chorus. This song is an example where it sounds like the band are concentrating intently on writing textbook pop-rock.
“A Matter of Time” is one of the stronger songs and also the most up-tempo and rocking song on the album with traces of ‘Sam’s Town’ material. “Miss Atomic Bomb” has all the makings to be a Killers classic but just falls short of the heights of their other anthems.
“Deadlines and Commitments” definitely hits the mark recalling ‘Day & Age’ era material mixed with Stevie Nicks. Written solely by Flowers, it’s again one of those tracks that would have also fit perfectly on his solo album. The same can certainly be said about the up-tempo country-rock of “From Here On Out”, which feels very much amiss on a Killers record.
“The Rising Tide” is a solid up-tempo number that sounds like The Cars while “Heart Of A Girl” recalls “Talk A Walk On The Side” with its chord progression and overall feel and even has Flowers using Lou Reed vocal inflections. The best example of where pop balladry works without being overly sentimental or predictable is “Be Here” – a stunning, heartfelt number.
Where their earlier efforts exuded a sense of excitement and exhilaration, ‘Battle Born’ is much more mature and instead concentrates on emotion. Although there may be fewer truly brilliant songs, ‘Battle Born’ is a thoroughly enjoyable album and one that gets better on every play with enough depth and endurance to last years to come.
Watch the video for “Runaways” below: