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Since their debut in 2004, The Killers have been on a mission to establish themselves as the Great American rock band of our generation, and many may argue that they’ve been successful in this endeavor. The Killers’ previous three albums offer a range of styles and influences. 2004′s Hot Fuss was released to much critical and commercial acclaim, showcasing the band’s brand of dance-punk revival. Singles like “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” have been revered as modern classics. 2006′s Sam’s Town was defined by a more accessible, blue collar kind of rock, and 2008′s Day & Age opted for more of a glam-rock electro vibe. Battle Born, The Killers’ fourth album, attempts to synthesize the group’s various incarnations into one sprawling but cohesive effort.
Battle Born contains all of the elements of The Killers’ signature sound: stadium rock power chords, electro-synth beats, and giant choruses, all wrapped up in one glitzy package. The album is pervaded by feelings of nostalgia. Songs like “The Rising Tide” and “Runaways” are reminiscent of Springsteen’s “Born to Run” era, while songs like “Miss Atomic Bomb” are an obvious nod to U2. The Killers worked with five producers on Battle Born, each of them veterans in the rock industry: Steve Lillywhite, Damian Taylor, Brendan O’Brien, Stuart Price, and Daniel Lanois. All have worked with iconic artists such as Morrissey, U2, Pearl Jam, and Bob Dylan.
After six years of near constant touring, The Killers took a hiatus in 2010. The break lasted for a year and a half. During that time, singer Brandon Flowers, bassist Mark Stoermer, and drummer Ronnie Vannucci all took time to pursue respective side projects. The group returned to the stage in 2011 when they headlined the International Lollapalooza Festival in Chile that April. A month later, they began work on Battle Born in their Las Vegas studio.
The lead single, “Runaway” is vintage Killers, on par with their previous stadium hits like “Human” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.” “Runaway” was also voted the Best Song of Summer 2012 by Rolling Stone readers. Four minutes long, the track starts soft and gradually builds into a heartland rock anthem. Punctuated with power chords, Flower’s voice takes center stage as he sings with assurance, “I knew that when I met you, I’m not gonna let you runaway. I knew that when I held you, I wasn’t lettin’ go.”
The following track, “The Way it Was” eases us into The Killers’ more thoughtful side. With its catchy hook and nostalgic imagery, the track is a throwback to the trio’s earlier song, “When You Were Young.” Set to a powerful drum beat, the dreamy tune tells the story of a young man yearning to go back to happier times: “Back then this thing was running on momentum, love and trust/That paradise is buried in the dust.” Twinkling guitars and the harmonic chorus beautifully emphasize the song’s tone.
Other highlights include “A Matter of Time” and “Flesh and Bone.” The former is another energetic anthem. The first minute of the four minute track is a gradual build, drums growing louder and louder as the backing vocals punctuate Flower’s voice with ominous “woahs.” The song erupts as Flower’s vocals break through loud and clear with the pronouncement, “The willows still weep on Charleston Avenue.” What follows is an urgent, pulsing song that threatens doom around every corner. “Flesh and Bone” is another song that takes its time. Beginning with a simple electric beeping noise, it builds into a theatrical tune that culminates with a speaking monologue delivered by Flowers. As the opening track, “Flesh and Bones” offers a thick arrangement that kicks the album off at a feverish pace.
The Killers’ strong suit has always been in their instrumentals. They craft their sound to paint a cinematic landscape that appeals to the nostalgic sensibilities of their listeners. Lyrically, Flowers’s words are very straightforward, often bordering the line of banality. But such is The Killers’ charm. People like corny because people can relate to corny. It’s identifiable. When Flowers sings, “Don’t want your picture on my cell phone, want you here with me,” on the track “Here With Me,” there is definitely no aspect of subtlety, but there is relatability. So Flowers may be accused of belting out emotional platitudes; that speaks to who The Killers are as a band.
At their best, The Killers produce explosive arena rock with catchy hooks and big choruses. There doesn’t need to be great lyrical complexity. Listeners can roll down the windows and belt out the plainest words of the heart, and that’s what Battle Born offers.