After taking a year and a half off to rest their road-weary bones and tend to some solo work, The Killers are back with Battle Born, the band’s fourth and most full-grown album. I hesitate to use the word “mature,” since these Vegas boys are still driven by their big, bleeding, collective teenaged heart, which still yearns to hop the first horse or hot rod out of Two Star Town and blaze the open highway to Neon City. But musically, Battle Born attains a nice balance of fire and glory and nuance that previous Killers efforts (or at least the past two) inevitably toppled over in their hell-bent quest for significance.
- The Killers
- Battle Born
You can hear the band downshifting even during the big numbers. “Flesh and Bone,” the opener, and “Runaways,” a song title The Killers had to cop eventually, proves they can still project a thunderous, arena-ready anthem into the clouds. But unlike on 2006’s Sam’s Town, a rather exhausting listen that veered dangerously close to Meat Loaf bombast, the band isn’t constantly firing on all cylinders here, so finally there’s a real sense of space in the mix.
And Brandon Flowers’ voice has never sounded better. (Has he gotten even cuter? No, that couldn’t be. Anyway …)
After spending the last few years refashioning the alternative snarl that powered 2004 debut Hot Fuss into a more mainstream rock ’n’ roll croon, he no longer sounds like he’s doing a subpar Springsteen/Bono impression. On songs like “Miss Atomic Bomb,” the guy stands on his own—a rock god with a set of serious pipes.
Flowers’ lyrics have gotten better, too. After giving the album several listens, I’ve yet to detect any lines that make my ears gag like the ones that seemed to drop every other minute in Sam’s Town. (I still cringe when I hear that “they say the devil’s water it ain’t so sweet” part from “When You Were Young.”) Perhaps the line about “a mystery under the neon light” qualifies, if only because you’ve heard Flowers sing something like it countless times, but he more than makes up for it with stuff like “We got engaged on a Friday night/I swore on the head of our unborn child/That I could take care of the three of us/But I have a tendency to slip when the nights get wild.”
Battle Born also offers one moment of revelation in “From Here on Out,” a totally addictive country-rock number in which the band emulates The Eagles with such pinpoint accuracy it’s almost creepy. Here’s hoping Flowers keeps mining the Frey-Henley songbook for inspiration.