Sunday, October 21, 2012

The return of Mr Brightside

album review

The Killers' Battle Born is rooted in the deserts of their hometown. At best, it proceeds with effortless grace. Sometimes it falters. But throughout, it seems natural and sincere.

Band:  The Killers
Album: Battle Born

They have released a slew of successful albums and singles, sold millions of records worldwide, and created arguably one of the best songs of the last decade in the form of the fantastic 'Mr. Brightside'. The Killers have established themselves on the back of arena-rock belters armed with anthemic choruses that have helped them impress a global audience.

From the new wave influences on the dance tinged rock of their debut set Hot Fuss (2004) to the heartland feel of its follow up Sam's Town (2006) and the playful vibe of Day & Age (2008), the group has moulded its sound over the years. With their fourth release, the band has unified its seemingly dual personality to offer a glorious slice of Americana. The progression seems natural, and the band simply continues down the road that has brought them this far.

Taking its name from Nevada's state motto, Battle Born is rooted in the deserts of their hometown. At best, it proceeds with effortless grace. Sometimes it falters. But throughout, it seems natural and sincere. The Killers are now set on cruise control, and their sound comes together on this album.

The wistful angst of Battle Born traverses the course of twelve songs and has been put together with the help of multiple producers - most visibly Steve Lillywhite, Damian Taylor, and Brendan O'Brien - and even includes external writing credits (Travis frontman Fran Healy helped co-write 'Here With Me'), but despite the many names, the album remains cohesive, and Brandon Flowers and co. seem firmly in control of the project.

The quartet from Las Vegas let their hometown inform their narrative as they revisit familiar territories and do so with their trademark dramatic flair. The album offers arena-worthy tracks with soaring choruses propelled by guitars and synthesizers. Songs like the album opener 'Flesh and Bone', first single 'Runaways', 'The Way It Was', and later tracks like 'The Rising Tide', 'From Here On Out', and album closer and title track 'Battle Born' stand out. There is even a hit of nostalgia when the riff from 'Mr. Brightside' makes an appearance on 'Miss Atomic Bomb'.

There are songs here that ring with Springsteen-esque yearning and aspire to emulate The Boss, and perhaps that would have been a complaint had this material been in the hands of lesser musicians. This will, however, be a cause for concern for those who were waiting for the band to return to their earlier sound. There are memorable songs here - The Killers have yet to make an album that doesn't have any solid tracks on it - but there are also songs on this set that are forgettable, especially depending on what flavour of The Killers you prefer. This is closer to Sam's Town (and even Brandon Flowers' solo album Flamingo) than it is to Hot Fuss, and it is likely to disappoint those who wanted The Killers to hold back on the heartland in favour of the leaner new wave and post punk of their earliest release. So ultimately your opinion of the album will depend on where your tastes lie on the musical spectrum.

Overall, Battle Born is a competent and comfortable record that sees The Killers at ease with their craft, and makes it feel like this was the record they really wanted to make. It's an album that makes you envision a stadium full of fans singing along; their ambitions are clear and their sound is fully realized.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 21st October, 2012

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