Wednesday, September 27, 2006

ALL KILLERS, SOME FILLER
In defense of Sam's Town



Oh boy. This is awkward.
How did I get here exactly?

Ahem. Okay. Well, let me explain first. I was never a Killers fan. In fact, I probably once or twice mentioned their name and sneered at the same time. Just a couple of months ago, I even wrote my parave Killers opinion on the Jane Magazine website (yes, totally meta, but why not work the cross-branding angle?):

"I have no opinion on the Killers.

Sure, they're one of the most popular bands in America and sure, the indie-inclined hates them while the rest of America loves them. But I don't really feel either way. It's not that I don't want to commit to a pro-or anti-Killers platform; it's just that their record Hot Fuss doesn't really do anything for me.

The new song "When You Were Young" isn't going to rattle my foundations either. The first single from the upcoming record sounds like Ryan Adams singing a U2 cover with Duran Duran as the backing band, or to put it more succinctly, an Our Lady Peace song. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I just can't DJ it."

Oddly enough, it turns out that I may be a fan of Ryan Adams singing a U2 cover with Duran Duran as a backing band. And the more I think about that descriptor, the more I kinda wish it would actually happen.

Well, it kinda has. The Killers' newest record Sam's Town isn't as bad as everyone says it is. It may even be, well, pretty good.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Rolling Stone, the bi-weekly that gives three stars to Dannity Kane, bestows the sophomore release with two-stars and Spin magazine, a heavy champion of the quartet, gives it only three. Obviously, I'm just being contrarian.

You're wrong. I'm not. I have nothing to gain by championing a band on the verge of serious backlash. It would even be in my best interest to get on the bandwagon, right?

In the aforementioned Rolling Stone review, RS staffer Rob Sheffield writes, "The difference with the Killers is that we all thought they were too smart to take themselves too seriously. On their second album, the Las Vegas party boys ditch their cheerfully fake Bowie moves and try to get heavy by copying Bruce Springsteen." That's pretty presumptuous of Sheffield to assume that the Killers wouldn't take themselves too seriously. After all, his magazine is just one of the many that hyped them up as the next great thing...or was that Coldplay? I get confused.
Are we really that surprised that the Killers' newest record is an attempt to embrace credibility? These guys are in their mid-twenties, at the crossroads of building a career, thinking, we need to be more than just responsible for influencing Panic! At The Disco, and after being touted as saviors, well, they want to be saviors. It's simple connect-the-dots to me. Besides, all four are devote Mormons. They're not reckless, drug-addicted, Godless heathens. They take everything seriously.

But Sheffield continues complaining about the song titles: "Yet even a more deft singer couldn't save bloated epics with I-swear-I'm-not-making-this-up titles like "Bling (Confessions of a King)" and "This River Is Wild."" Granted, singer Brandon Flower's voice isn't the strongest, but on Sam's Town, he does his best Bono imitation (albeit, the latter day, vocal-chords-damaged-by-alcohol Bono). Do you blame him? Bono is the blueprint, man. And granted, I've never labeled the Killers as profound. Will I spend hours interpreting lyrics like "when everybody else refrained/my Uncle Johnny did cocaine ("Uncle Johnny")"? Probably not. But did "Well somebody told me you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year" really move you with its lyrical beauty? What did you expect from a band that put pen to paper and came up with "Jealousy, turning saints into the sea/Swimming through sick lullabies/Choking on your alibis?" Wordsworth?

Dennis Lim of Spin says, "The Killers only know one kind of song. Everything is constructed to epic dimensions...Sam's Town is basically Hot Fuss with bigger, spanglier guitars and an all-around lack of restraint." After hearing the album a few times, I definitely hear Lim's issuse/lack of restraint but attributing this album solely to Springsteen is a mistake. Yes, the bulbous album is far from being perfect but it's semi-bold. I hear James, OMD, Big Country, ELO, U2, the Cars, and yes, the Boss. These reference points are actually exciting to me.

There's also something you should probably know as a consumer and/or reader. When it comes to big, hyped releases, reviewers aren't always given pre-release copies (welcome to the age of album leaking). Sometimes they're invited into a conference room for an exclusive listening party. This is when you sit at a table, surrounded by fellow writers and stare awkwardly at a notepad pretending to take notes while the record blares from the corner speakers. It's very hard (and I speak from experience) to give a record a fair shot after one or two listens. Sam's Town sounds like a grower to me. There may not be a market for a hyped band releasing growers but this doesn't mean we should immediately dismiss this ambitious effort as a sophomore slump and a failure.

Throughout Sam's Town, I could almost hear Brandon Flowers predicting the reaction to the songs. The album opens with, "We hope you enjoy your stay/it's good to have you with us even it's just for the day." The band appreciates your patronage even if it's not long-term. On "Bling", he pleads "don't tell me it's over/it's not so bad/it's not so bad." Flowers could almost dedicate this song to Sheffield.

It is hard listening to a record while maintaining pure objectivity. It's even harder to detach a band from it's history but critics are making the mistake of listening to Sam's Town as a sequel to Hot Fuss. With that kind of baggage, yeah, the album sucks. It sucks hard. But my skepticism and apathy worked in this band's favor: I didn't expect much from Sam's Town which helped me get more than just "whatever."

I've yet to declare the Killers one of my favorite bands--I can, though, almost committ to a pro-Killers platform. And sadly, this record won't rattle my foundations either. It's good, not awful nor revelatory. Nevertheless, I can appreciate Sam's Town and the Pet Shop Boyishness of "Bling", the driving rhythm of the Cars on "Reasons Unknown", the Born To Run-on of "Bones."

On the bonus track "All the Pretty Faces", the Killers riff like Franz Ferdinand while Flowers yelps two distinct lines, "How did it happen?" and "I don't feel like loving you no more!"

How did it happen? Well, critics are a peculiar bunch, Brandon. Maybe they'll feel like loving you again when the triumphant and inevitable return-to-form third album comes out. And at that point, I'll just go back to my apathy.

Bonus Track: The Killers - "All the Pretty Faces"

[A special BBS shout-out to Courtney for a) listening to me ramble about Sam's Town and b) suggesting I write about this record.]

4 Comments:

Anonymous sara said...

dude. the new album isn't any good. brandon's voice sounds terrible, the lyrics are totally painful, and there's like one catchy song on the whole album. hot fuss was way better, and i was never even a big fan of that one.

come back to the fold.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Arye said...

Sara, my dear, you know I'm not a big fan either. But this record--Sam's Town--isn't the atrocity everyone's saying it is. It's shmaltzy, but horrific? Hardly. We may not see eye-to-eye on this one but you know I'm always eventually right.

( ;

ps the blogger world misses you. xo

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yep, homeboy. the whole critic-in-room-with-speakers-yields-bad-review-then-critic-likes-album-after-more-listens thing just hit me. Dammit.
— Aaron

10:37 PM  
Anonymous sara said...

I gave it a C- in the Washington Post. And i was being generous. On first listening i made it through to about song #7 and then couldn't take the pain anywhere. Had to regroup and try again.

Anyway, no time for blogging now because people have inexplicably decided to start paying me to write this shite. :)

4:42 PM  

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