The Killers’ lead singer Brandon Flowers is nothing if not a storyteller. Going all the way back to the songs on The Killers’ first album, Hot Fuss, Flowers’ lyrics have told the stories of guys hustling to get androgynous looking girls’ numbers at the local club, obsessive compulsive (almost stalkerish) lovers on the outside and a girl named Jenny who was a friend of his. On Sam’s Town, the stories kept coming about girls who pine for “beautiful boys” to come and rescue them, even if they “didn’t look like Jesus.” On The Killers’ new album, Battle Born, Flowers keeps up the penchant for storytelling. This time out though, the music that The Killers composed as a band fits his stories more completely than it ever has.
Being a guitar/synth/area rock band, The Killers’ sound is unique amongst the currently popular rock bands recording these days. They’re also the most interesting and expansive sounding. The Killers have seesawed back and forth on their previous albums between a more distorted synth sound where the guitars were in the background to an ‘80s U2-ish guitar, bass and drum sound where the synths were regulated to atmospheric aspects of the songs. Songs like “When You Were Young,” “Bling (Confession of a King),” and “For Reasons Unknown” from Sam’s Town were straight up guitar-driven arena rock. “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me,” from Hot Fuss, carried the area rock torch as well but were much more atmospheric and smoky, traits that fit their hazy subject matter excellently. On Battle Born though, The Killers manage to put the two together better than they ever have before. They create a type of area rock that stacks the synths and the guitars next to each other instead of one on top of the other.
Perhaps the best song that they’ve ever written, “Runaways,” is a perfect amalgamation of synth, guitar, drum, bass and Flowers’ emotional (without being emo) voice. Flowers’ story of young love, the hope that a young man sees in the “blonde hair blowing in the summer wind” of a “blue eyed girl playing in the summer sand” and the toll from the struggle that a life built together can be after the “teenage rush” fades is so universal. Nearly everyone who has ever been in love, had that love tested, yet still burned with desire for their loved one, can relate. The expansive and ascending mix of synth and guitar throughout “Runaways” rivals nearly anything sonically produced by the aforementioned kings of arena rock like U2. The true power of the song rests not with Dave Keuning’s guitar lines and Flowers’ soaring vocals; it rests with Ronnie Vannucci’s drumming. The intricate galloping of his beats is what makes “Runaways” the trip that it is.
The album is packed with songs that fuse the synth rock and arena guitar rock sound in ways that display their own power without being rehashes of “Runaways.” “The Way it Was,” which effectively continues the story of “Runaways,” is a mid-tempo rocker that is guitar driven but again manages to make excellent use of the band’s more electronic leanings. Flowers sings of a drive through the desert after a fight with his girl while Elvis sings “Don’t Be Cruel” on the radio. One can almost envision the nighttime desert drive Flowers is crooning about through the songs wide open soundscape. “A Matter of Time,” which sounds reminiscent of “Somebody Told Me” is full of the frantic energy that someone who desperately pleads “C’mon show me where it hurts/Maybe I can heal it” would feel.
“Miss Atomic Bomb” resurrects a little of the area rock that “Runaways” displays so brilliantly. “From Here on Out,” an acoustic and electric guitar song that would squarely fit on any area rock bands’ mid-80s album is the only song that leaves the synths turned off and surprisingly the song is better for it. The album’s title track, “Battle Born,” is a genuine rocker of epic proportions that pulls together everything that makes The Killers a unique rock experience. Next to “Runaways,” it’s the song that’ll please the arena crowd the most.
A nearly flawless example of how to write heartfelt songs that aren’t trite, overbearing or overtly emo and perfect for the arena rock fan, Battle Born is the album that solidifies The Killers’ relevance to rock music with heart.
Review originally appeared at Shutter16.com