The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful
It was April 20, 2004 when I walked into a bar in Denver, CO to see The Killers supporting Stellastarr*. Both bands had one song on YouTube and I incorrectly assumed The Killers were from the UK.
That night, The Killers excitedly chatted about driving to California to open for Morrissey in a few days. They left everything on the small stage despite only a handful of people in attendance (The Strokes were playing down the street the same night). A few months later, Hot Fuss arrived and, for me, that album sparked a thrilling new decade of music that had echoes of all the 1980s bands that I grew up with. It was an exciting time in music as Interpol, Elefant (sadly forgotten) and The Killers invigorated rock-n-roll and brought style back into the equation. Since then, The Killers have become an uncertain entity and Wonderful Wonderful appears to be the final nail in the band’s creative coffin.
With Wonderful Wonderful, The Killers toss more highly polished product to their victims while awaiting the next big festival paycheck. Any doubts about the band being a Brandon Flowers vanity project at this stage were laid to rest when it was announced that guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer would no longer be touring with the band (but they’re still members. Umm… ok). Shrewdly, this news didn’t drop until a few weeks after tickets for the tour were put on sale. Of course, each ticket came with a free copy of Wonderful Wonderful which will artificially inflate album sales while giving my wife and I matching drink coasters for our next patio party because, honestly, who listens to CDs at this point?
After coming to grips with the fact that The Killers would not be the torch bearers of the new wave of New Wave, I came to appreciate the ridiculous bravado of Sam’s Town with its Springsteen-meets-The Joshua Tree ambitions. The singles from Day & Age (2008) were infectious and nonsensical (author’s note: I am human, I am not dancer) but 2012’s Battle Born sounded more like Glass Tiger than New Order or Duran Duran. The band sounded just as disappointed and the five year wait for Wonderful Wonderful allowed the spin cycle to reach full speed as anticipation built for a return to form.
Opener “Wonderful Wonderful” sounds more experimental than anything the band has previously done. There are hints of Talk Talk and Radiohead at work on the title track which instantly raises hopes for where we are headed. Those hopes are immediately dashed by “The Man” which sounds like the 1975 covering Maroon 5 (or vice versa). Flowers rides way above the band in the mix and the band’s best asset, the rhythm section, sounds like it has been processed through a plethora of computer filters. The excitement generated by a live band has been completely drained from the recording. Its mind-boggling that this is the same band once mentioned in the same breath as Interpol and The Strokes.
“The Rut” lives up to its title with a chorus that would make even Corey Hart blush. Flowers asks us to not give up on him but does little to reassure us that there is better music ahead. Promising a more personal album, “Tyson vs. Douglas” reveals that Flowers shed tears the night Mike Tyson was knocked out by a tremendous underdog. It’s an odd choice for a metaphor about losing everything when you’re on top even for a Vegas native to make. Tyson has spoken of spending more time with Japanese prostitutes than training for that fight in Japan – hardly a cry for empathy.
“Run For Cover” sounds a little too much like Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound” but it’s one of few songs that sounds like a band playing together. Album highlight “Life To Come” also sounds like the four guys we first met on Hot Fuss with ringing guitar chords shooting across Ronnie Vannucci Jr’s slow building thunder. Its one of the few times the band has captured their stadium-sized ambitions on record. Compare that with the absurd “Have All the Songs Been Written?”, which doesn’t even deserve a place on a Flowers solo album, and you have the frustrating reality of The Killers where the near misses far outnumber the direct hits.
Perhaps its best to experience Wonderful Wonderful as what it appears to be, the first Brandon Flowers album under The Killers moniker. Viewed from that angle, there is a tenderness to “Some Kind of Love” which benefits from Brian Eno’s textured atmosphere. Written for his wife, Flowers lets his guard down and doesn’t trip himself up lyrically. Along with the title song, there are some interesting musical avenues for Flowers to follow in the future. However, that is a road he will probably walk alone.