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Album Review: The Killers – Battle Born

on September 19, 2012, 8:00am
The Killers Battle born D-
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There is something deeply, embarrasingly satisfying about The Killers’ slick shlock pomp-rock. Even when what they’re singing about makes little to no sense. I still need several primers on what “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” actually means and Southland Tales did not help me out at all. The best of the widescreen melodrama in which they traffick — a perfect analogy for the band’s Las Vegas stomping grounds — taps into a place that is part guilty pleasure and part first-pumping amygdala response. At their best, The Killers are basically Coldplay for maximalists.

Battle Born is the Killers’ latest record and, as far as Killers records go, it’s fine. It’s certainly not great, and it may not even be good. Which warrants the question, what does a “good” Killers record really mean? There are microscopic differences in quality between any given Killers song. Mostly it depends on how effectively the band toes the line that separates things like The O.C. from things like Days of Our Lives. In this example, “Bling (Confessions of a King)” would be someone’s evil twin coming back to life to interrupt a wedding by announcing that she’s pregnant with the groom’s baby.

If that sounds like it’s going overboard, well that’s kind of what The Killers do. The emotional stakes are perpetually raised in Killers songs. “I believe we never have to be alone,” “Don’t want your picture on my cell phone, I want you here with me,” and “Is this real or just a dream?” are all lyrics that appear on Battle Born, ones that Brandon Flowers sings as though he’s actually in the middle of a battle, belting out emotional platitudes over explosions of arena-synth riffs. Enormous church choirs show up to supplement the choruses of more than three songs. There are at least three more moments that try to out-Boss the Boss but don’t even manage to out-Anthem the Gaslight Anthem.

To be fair, Battle Born does occasionally sound like the Killers are trying to expand their 50 Shades of Drama palette. “From Here On Out” has a sort of country shuffle to it, and “Runaways” reimagines Jersey rock through the band’s default Duran Duran Instagram filter. The problem with even these vague attempts at “branching out” is that the band still covers everything with swathes of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” synth pads and CR-78 drum sounds. The small differences on Battle Born might have actually showed up if the band had reigned back a little bit.

But then they wouldn’t be The Killers. Nuance has never been a part of their playbook, because they’ve never done it remotely well. To expect them to start now is sort of like railing Snoop for never getting socially conscious with his raps. The fact is, everyone listens to “All These Things That I’ve Done;” nobody listens to “Spaceman”. The best songs on Battle Born, the ones that you’ll find yourself humming at work, or the ones that you’ll turn up when they come on the radio, are the ones that buy into the Killers ethos wholeheartedly without all of this dalliance into “more complicated music.”

The bigger tragedy of Battle Born isn’t that it sounds like every other Killers record, because every Killers record sounds like every other Killers record. The tragedy of Battle Born is that even when it shouts at the top of its lungs, it never reaches that special place that the band accidentally trips into with their best material. Nothing here approaches the unabashed grandiosity of “Mr. Brightside” or the, uh, unabashed grandiosity of “When You Were Young.” The trick the Killers have always been able to play is to convince us lines like “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus” or “You had a boyfriend that looked like a girlfriend” were not embarrassing things to roll our car windows down and sing, mostly because they were paired with some sort of unimpeachable hook. On Battle Born, those hooks just aren’t there. What exactly is supposed to be memorable about the limp, simpering “Deadlines and Commitments?” Nevermind, I’ve already forgotten it.

Battle Born isn’t a total loss; there certainly are songs that you’re going to remember. “Runaways” is the type of stomping classic rock escapist fantasy that’s played well throughout time. “Here With Me” features some sweeping, grandiose end-credits balladry. “The Rising Tide” is maybe the most representative primer on what The Killers are supposed to sound like. And the closing title track’s shout-along is probably the best song on the record. Unfortunately for The Killers, you’re not going to remember them very long. Certainly not as long as “Mr. Brightside”, and probably not even as long as you’ll remember singing “Are we human or are we dancer?” Instead, you’ll remember the songs these highlights remind you of. “Runaways” tries to be “Born to Run” but couldn’t even qualify as “Born to Jog”. “Here With Me”‘s greatest ambition is to be slotted somewhere on a new volume of Buzz Ballads between Collective Soul and “Lightning Crashes.” And Eddie Money should be getting paid for how much “The Rising Tide” sounds like “Take Me Home Tonight”. Aside from “Battle Born”, none of the other high points succeed against the influences The Killers have long been aping, much less against those times when the band has hit that sentimental ache that exists in all of us.

Essential Tracks: “Battle Born”, “Runaways”

Feature artwork by Dmitri Jackson:

cos killers feature art feat size e1348036490939 Album Review: The Killers   Battle Born

22 comments

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John
September 19, 2012 at 8:33 am

It seems this time around they went with a lot of studio and producer coordination… Making their songs, THEIR songs is what made them the great band they are.

Guest
September 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

I can name several Collective Soul songs (Shine, December, Gel, etc.) and Live songs (I Alone, Selling the Drama, The Stood Up For Love, etc.) that are light years better than the embarrassment that is “Here With Me”. Killers have struggled mightily since Hot Fuss, with album tracks like “Read My Mind” (off Sam’s Town) and “This Is Your Life” (off Day & Age) being slight exceptions.

Eric
September 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Battle Born is an amazing album…and who even thinks about Collective Soul anymore?

AM
September 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm

The meaning of “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” is quite obvious. It’s a great metaphor that represents the conflict between faith (religious faith) and behaviour. “I’ve got soul” means I’ve got faith, and “I’m not a soldier” means i don’t follow the rules of the faith i profess, because i’m not stong enough, because i’m surrounded by temptation, i’m not a soldier in the sense that i i’m not capable of rigourous obedience to the discipline that my faith demands from me. I’t a very personal song, in which Brandon Flowers is talking about the conflict between his religious beliefs (he’s mormon) and the temptation of the “rock ‘n’ roll” life style. A song where he admits he hasn’t been faithfull to his faith, that he has “sinned”. That’s what he means when he sings “all these things that i’ve done” (all these sins). It’s a song that express a certain regret, a song where he searches for some kind of redemption, a song where he also express that what really defines someone is not what you do but what you feel. So, in my opinion this line is a very clever metaphor, that says a lot about Brandon Flowers inteligence. And i really don’t understand how critics, who are suposed to be insightful people, aren’t able to get the meaning of that line.
Also i’m tired of all the bad things that some of these “intelectual people” say about The Killers. I always get the feeling that secretly they love their songs, but are incapable of admiting it. The truth is that The Killers write very effective, cacthy, epic songs. They are in fact very honest, they don’t compromise their true self, just to be well received by the critics. And most of these reviews don’t talk about music, in fact, sometimes, i get the feeling that they don’t understand a thing about music. They just slam what is mainstream and glorify what is indie, regardless of musical quality. In any standard, if somebody wants to be honest, The Killers songs are very well written, very well crafted and, above all, they are heartfelt, because they are true enthusiasts of what they do, of the emotion they can give through a song.In that sense they are quite romantic, they have a teenage heart. They aren’t searching for critical aclaim, they are searching for the hapiness of those who listen to their songs. The reality is that you, like many hipters and “pseudo- intelectuals” fail to see their true intention. You can’t see their big and sincere heart. You should read the review from Spin magazine. Sorry for my english, it’s not my first language.

KF
October 18, 2012 at 6:51 am

AM~ VERY well said! I completely agree, I am so tired of reading reviews for albums by The Killers and hearing reviewers talk about how the lyrics are so silly… are you kidding me? They think that because they have no idea what they are about. Anyway, I am not great at talking about The Killers because I am so passionate about them… all those ‘meaningless lyrics’ that Brandon Flowers writes… well, they helped to save my life, so I tend to take great offense to critics bashing them. But you did a great job, your comment said everything better than I could have. So thank you :)

guestkp
September 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm

This is a great review. Coming from a somewhat embarrassed Killers fan this album does not live up to even Day and Age, which is saying something.

Tom O’Connell
September 19, 2012 at 8:00 pm

@6f20c2826886a5bce39fe833b0cf8966:disqus I’ll agree with you re: ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ (and I’ll also add that I was surprised at the backlash his other infamous lyric, ‘Are we human? Or are we dancer?’ received). In those two instances I think critics are taking things too seriously. So, that’s all well and good, but to defend The Killers derivative songwriting methods because ‘they’re full of sincerity’ is bs. I don’t care if someone believes 9000% in what they’re preaching, if the end product isn’t strong enough than they deserve to be called on it.

I’m a long time fan of The Killers. I’m reasonably openminded, loved ‘Sam’s Town’, moments of ‘Sawdust’ and found some redeemable moments in the uneven ‘Day & Age’. ‘Battle Born’, however, is a mess. Everything about it is permanently stuck on ’11′ — there are no textures or dynamics to even it out. I hear it get compared to ‘Sam’s Town’ … Sure, it’s like ‘Sam’s Town’ — if every track on that album was just a variation on ‘Bling (Confessions of a King)’ (a great track, by the way, but definitely not what their status quo should be). I think I blame the producer. Somebody needed to moderate all that excess; it’s just too cringeworthy for words.

This review is fair and accurate. It doesn’t jump on the hate bandwagon for the sake of it (as you’ve implied); it simply points out the glaring issues. I suspect, AM, that you’re too emotionally attached to the band. I’m sure they’re stand-up guys, and I love some of what they’ve accomplished in the past, but a dud is still a dud.

I’m going to go out on a whim and recommend Flowers’ solo album, ‘Flamingo’. It’s far from perfect either, but it at least tries on a few other musical hats (with some pleasantly surprising results).

Sara
September 19, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Oh CoS, don’t you know that the whole 2 stars out of 5, bitter lamenting review of the Killers has already been done by Rolling Stone six years ago? If you think you’re being original or innovative with this review, well… you’re wrong. RS were on the wrong side of music history, as now all of a sudden, surprise surprise, people of all kinds have come out of the wood work admitting they kinda love Sam’s Town. Looks like you’ll be in Rolling Stone’s position in a few years’ time, too. I feel bad for all the cynics that will never give the Killers the time of day, because they won’t get to experience the kind of euphoria in their concerts that I have. Oh well, your loss. Have fun listening to Animal Collective.

CptDavey
September 20, 2012 at 6:42 am

Oh Sara, hope you’ve noticed this isn’t a RS review? Chris has hit the nail on the head with the review and the 2/5.
Sam’s Town is in my opinion the best album of all time. I can still imagine Brandon Flowers storming around the stage like there’s something wrong with him, wearing an awesome moustache, a gold waistcoat, and belting out When You Were Young. But dude lets face it, the Battle Born album is FLAT.
If an upstarting band released this material you would probably skim over it and put it on a shelf. But this is from the Killers! They are talented musicians!
All the songs are about relationship problems and have a slow and steady, melancholic feel with no rises and falls. The lyrics are so uninventive and riddled with cliches that I even made a drinking game based on it. Drink everytime the song mentions:
A Heart/Love
Vegas Reference (e.g. Locales, Atomic Bombs and Neon Lights)
Desert/Sand/Dust
Travelling (e.g. Moved or Drove)
A Path/Passage/Road
Parent/Child/Sibling

rotobos
September 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm

dont forget the neon signs.

navit
September 19, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Consequence of Sound have always come off as a bit anti-The Killers. I’ve found it interesting to read another perspective from you guys over the years. The Killers’ music has always needed to “grow” on me, and I actually like that about them. Battle Born definitely needs some growing, but there are a few songs that I immediately liked (for example “Be Still” and “Flesh and Bone” some that you didn’t mention).

Greg
September 20, 2012 at 2:24 am

Battle Born is a great album. If you dont like it, I hope you get killed by a bus.

carlos
September 20, 2012 at 11:33 am

I do remember the memorable part of “Deadlines and Commitments”… all of it.

Jon Renner
September 20, 2012 at 11:46 am

Horrible review! Dude, just admit it you just don’t like anything synth. So the Killers have no chance from the start with that bias. Sounds like you’re just looking for one hit wonders when it comes to music. Only catchy tunes that are being fed to you on the radio are your tunes. I am a pro musician, been one for 25 years, and I can tell you this album is great music! In my book it’s album of the year. To me it’s right up there with some of U2′s most memorable albums.

mike raas
September 21, 2012 at 10:44 am

This album is nowhere near Billy Talent’s new album Dead Silence. FAR from one of the best albums of 2012.

BK
September 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm

This cements it…no more pre-orders on iTunes. I’m a huge Killers fan but this was their weakest album to date. Disappointing.

rotobos
September 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm

especially cause they did free streaming the week before release!! they (and Spotify) saved me $15. Now that ive heard it a couple of times through, I’ll probaly just get a couple of tracks.

Chris Owen
September 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm

The best songs on this album, in my opinion, are “Flesh and Bone”, “Runaways”, “Deadlines and Commitments”, “Battle Born”, and “Carry Me Home”….most of the other tracks are pretty solid, but “A Matter of Time” and “Here With Me” just never seem to grow on me or stand out at all…

JJ
September 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Just the fact that you compared Eddie Money’s Take Me Home Tonight to “Rising Tide” completely negates your musical intelligence. Now I’m going to review your review: it sucked harder than Pamela Anderson on her honeymoon with Tommy Lee!

LoveTheKillers
September 28, 2012 at 8:32 am

Your review sucks. Its not the genre of music which is “popular” today which tends to make typical critics diss DECENT music.

I absolutely love this album, including the B-sides. One of my favourite things about The Killers is the dynamic lyrics and how they tell stories which are like fantasies and just awesome! and in this album every song has mindblowing lyrics! pure awesome !

I absolutely adore the last minute or so of A Matter of Time! So heartfilled and triumphant! And the part in Miss Atomic Bomb which plays in the Mr. Brightside tune! Its like its the story continued :D love it!

My fave songs are A Matter of Time and The Way it Was! Also Deadlines and Commitments is in my top 3. So critic.. stfu

Lee C. Walker
October 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

I listen to spaceman.

Punkupine
October 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm

You didn’t even mention Miss Atomic Bomb?