Yawn. I’m sorry. That was a poor opening. I am a bit tired from bearing through The Killers latest album Battle Born for the fifth time. Not fifth time consecutively. I would kill myself. I’m just a little sleepy here…Hum. Um. Ok. Well, Battle Born isn’t some sleepytime album. It is a far cry from Radiohead’s Kid A or some post-rock balladry or something, not that it was ever meant to be. Oh no, The Killers latest foray into the musical spectrum after a pretty lengthy four year hiatus is about as huge as can be. The group come pre-equipped with stadium rock epics, bombastic chorus’, and hooks and ditties galore straight out of the Billboard-topping manufacturing plant that produces some of the most hollowed out soulless music this way of the latest Fruity Loops pre-sampled track.
Maybe that is a tad unfair. The Way It Was is constructed nicely, with a huge little chorus that sticks instead of bores. Deadlines and Commitments leads with an opening synth torn right from the 80′s. Literally- it is the same synth lead from an 80′s soap opera introduction. Heart of a Girl is the perfect example of the blandness of their current sound, running through post-Hot Fuss Killers cliches that never takes off. A Matter of Time seems pulled right out of The Killers from 2004- it’s huge and silly and too much for it’s own good.
My favorite song on here is The Rising Tide. Not because it’s unique or original. And just to be clear, this isn’t being used as a criterion for the quality of a song or band. It just seems more FUN, like The Killers are actually enjoying what they are doing as opposed to running through the motions. It also finds Brandon Flowers at his best vocally, and it finds a nurturing balance between nice lyrics, synth-driven instrumentation, and a plentiful chorus’ that doesn’t seem too huge for its own good.
Yet overall, the lyrics do no favors. The album is a total step through Brandon Flowers middle school creativity, nearly every song drowning in that mellowing middle ground between young love and heartbreak, with a little rock star excess thrown in for good measure (Flowers ego can’t get away from remarking how great he is, the whole album sort of being an ode to rock star exploitation). Of course, there are those lyric lines that are so unbelievably ”what the fuck did he say?” they make you flinch. At best, their just unremarkable and immature. At worst, their distracting and terrible.
The greatest problem with Battle Born is that it’s just driveling. None of the songs hold up to the absolutely sensational rock constructs of Hot Fuss or hell, even Sam’s Town. Those songs were brilliant. All These Things That I’ve Done may be the song of the last decade if you caught me in the right mood. Yet the songs here are just empty. The stadium rock appeal has become so battered and neutered, the group is left with shameless attempts at making something so instantly appealing it backfires and ends up soulless and inarguably insipid.
By the close of the album, in the title track Battle Born, I have sort of warmed up to the band’s attempt at being so “themselves.” It’s a pretty remarkably constructed song, and makes me wish the preceding 11 or so tracks held up to its fashion of dynamic time changes and guitar leads. You find comfort in a band that just ignores the tired attempts at being different and opts for a sound that is accessible and denominator-inducing. So sure, I get it.
Boring as it is, in reality, The Killers have made something largely harmless. Battle Born is layered so thickly in production it somehow masks the band’s inadequacies, somewhat, and it relies heavily on stadium rock conventions of huge chorus’ and powerful “memorable” synth leads. The finished formula is to make for a band at the prime of their “sound” in the most generic and lifeless way possible. It’s not that Battle Born is BAD exactly. It’s just that there is absolutely no reason to listen to something so inferior in its ability to recall emotional resonance, when there is so much more music that does so much more. The Killers aren’t asking for much. But they seem to be comforted in being “just there.” Stadium huge and as interesting as a jumble of rocks.