The Killers Settle for Generic and Forgettable Pop-Rock

The Killers -- Battle Born -- Island -- 3 STARS

Courtesy Island

The Killers are savvy veterans of the billboard charts. Their first single, “Somebody Told Me,” hit #3 on the alternative chart in 2004, and since then they have ruled the rock airways with countless anthems. With vivacious instrumentation and Brandon Flowers’ signature lead vocals, the songs of the long-awaited album “Battle Born” also have the potential to become catchy billboard hits. However, repetitive melodies, unoriginal instrumentation, and generic subject matter prevent the album from being strong as a cohesive whole. On “Battle Born,” the Killers seek to entertain rather than to make an artistic statement.

The opening song, “Flesh and Bone,” is as catchy as its predecessors in the Killers’ canon. The track opens with digital tones and an electric harpsichord to create a foreign, futuristic feel before a swell of strings introduces a classic Killers chorus: a full soundscape of toms and guitars dotted with electric tonal riffs. Without losing momentum, the style rapidly changes in the middle of the song to a seductive, minimalistic groove in which the piano complements the drum beat.

“Miss Atomic Bomb” is another earworm. Here the Killers emulate the name of the song’s principal character, Atomic Bomb, through both the instrumentation and lyrics. An explosion of drums and guitar leads to the climatic chorus, and the song gradually devolves until the end. The lyrics play on double-entendres referencing the title character’s name to create vivid images of the story. Flowers emotes the sorrow of heartbreak as he sings, “The dust clouds have settled / And my eyes are clear / But sometimes in dreams of impact I still hear / This Atomic Bomb.”

However, the majority of the album fails to maintain the energy of these choice singles, as the worst songs revert to tired instrumentation and lyricism. “The Way It Was” is an example of the generic, deflated instrumental development. The buildups, driven by synchronous beating of the snare, tom and bass guitar, lack the strength and energy to lift the song to its expected climaxes. During the verses, the instrumentation seems to be present almost purely for the purpose of keeping tempo, as the drums, bass, and guitar rarely deviate from their monotonous roles.

“Be Still” has similar problems. The melodramatic piano chords and strings fail to provide any real emotional weight for the ballad. In the second verse, a hi-hat and snare beat join the bare instrumental track, which remains relatively constant and cheesy for the entire song. Moreover, the song’s lyrics are filled with clichés and uncreative phrases: “Be still and go on to bed / nobody knows what lies ahead / and life is short to say the least / we’re in the belly of the beast.”

However, the Killers keep the album varied enough to make for an enjoyable listen all the way through. On “From Here on Out,” the band goes country, as acoustic strumming, sparse drums, and clapping keep an upbeat tempo in the background while chipper electric guitar and drawling vocals propel the track forward. The band completes the sound with a drawn out “Heeey” at the beginning of the chorus. And swinging electric guitar chords, as heard in the chorus of the final song “Battle Born,” emulate the style of ’80s rock, whereas the choral-like accompaniment in the finale is reminiscent of Queen’s vocal style. Nevertheless, the song showcases the Killer’s patience and ability to build up a number of instrumental and vocal layers over the course of the song.

The Killers certainly do have the ability to create catchy pop-rock anthems, as demonstrated over the years and in “Battle Born.” However, this album’s quality is highly variable. Its tunes are at once hummable and largely forgettable.

—Staff writer Vivian W. Leung can be reached at vivianleung@college.harvard.edu.

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