From the opening notes of Battle Born, the latest effort by Las Vegas rock quartet The Killers, it’s clear that something has changed.
Revivalist ’70s arena rock and bombastic, indie-sounding synth-pop are gone this time around, and the departure feels satisfying. For this album, the group has decided to go for a nostalgic sound, hitting the listener with resounding, echoing drums and racing guitar.
It’s possible that The Killers have finally settled on a sound that they can call their own, but for all the nostalgia they throw at the microphone, there’s still plenty to hold Battle Born back from perfection.
This is the first release from The Killers since the death of frontman Brandon Flowers’ mother and the suicide of the band’s recording saxophonist, Tommy Marth.
Both of these losses had a profound effect on Flowers, the group’s primary songwriter, and it shows. Love Battle Born or hate it, it’s certainly a product of these losses, as the album’s pervading theme of mortality proves.
“What are you made of?” Flowers demands in the record’s first—and most dramatic—track. “Flesh and bone,” the band returns with a profound howl. It never exactly falls apart after “Flesh and Bone,” but it certainly gets a lot less interesting.
Biography seems to be the purpose of every song on Battle Born. The words “Battle Born” appear on the Nevada state flag itself, and Nevada is home to all four musicians in the group. Nostalgia for life in Nevada—growing up, falling in love and getting older—is forced into every song, often shoehorned in where it’s not needed.
“Runaways” is a huge, Rose Bowl-ready single that could be right off a Springsteen album, but the effect of Flowers’ enduring love for the woman in that song is pretty well undermined when every song he’s written for Battle Born tells the same story: boy meets girl, adolescent romance ends in some degree of disaster and boy never forgets the lesson he’s learned. It gets old.
There are solid tracks among all the monotony. “Miss Atomic Bomb” is as blatantly biographical as a song could be, but it sounds more like The Killers’ older work than most anything else on Battle Born, which sets it apart in a good way.
Likewise, closing and title song “Battle Born” is a refreshingly laid back tune that avoids the breakneck pace and sentimentality of the songs that precede it.
Ultimately, Battle Born is just good enough. Brandon Flowers has written his biography with the lyrics, and that should attract any diehard Killers fan above anything else.
For those who aren’t so into the synthy throwback mishmash The Killers have become known for, the interesting part of Battle Born is over as soon as it begins.