Sophomore album Sam's Town should have an easy time eclipsing the latter mark, with the top spot itself not implausible when the highly anticipated follow-up hits the streets on Tuesday. The guess here, though, is that it won't spend 90-plus weeks on the charts, or even 50, and not because interest in The Killers has waned significantly since their retro-New Wave style first captured the world's attention. Put bluntly, the early implosion of Sam's Town will be attributable to its lack of killer hooks and killer lyricsin short, killer songs.
Maybe Hot Fuss came across a tad disposable, but Sam's Town feels inordinately cumbersome, to the point of sounding insincere in its weightiness. The Vegas foursome fashions a veil of instant maturity from giant-sized thematic concepts, grandiose theatrics and in-your-face production from U2 and Smashing Pumpkins cohorts Flood and Alan Moulder. But ballsier doesn't necessarily mean better. No one is suggesting The Killers tread water with another disc of danceable synth-pop, but at times their new ideas outrun their compositional capabilities, resulting in an LP with tantalizing intentions but often-underrealized outcomes.
Sam's Town can basically be partitioned into four-song thirds: a robust, mostly compelling opening volley, an innocuous middle chunk and an almost unbearably ponderous final stretch. By the time the quartet sings "We hope you enjoyed your stay" on outro cut "Exitlude," the best-to-worst arrangement will likely send many listeners scurrying from the band's grand suite, even though points along the 44-minute visit were plenty inviting.
The title track opens the album with appropriate force, Flowers howling "Why do you waste my time?" amid a shower of thundering keyboards. What the "I see London/I see Sam's Town" couplet or carnival ambiance are about is anyone's guess, but it all transitions smoothly enough to pretty piano-and-vocal short "Enterlude," which segues even more sleekly into first single "When You Were Young," the album's best-executed number. Flowers' much-ballyhooed Springsteen fixation pops up a couple of times, such as when his voice shakes ever so slightly for the "They say the devil's water it ain't so sweet" breakdown, but overall the tune feels shiny and spry, and should be a beast on the arena circuit. Same goes for "Bling (Confessions of a King)," a motor-driven rocker that, despite some distracting studio wizardry, will impel your gas-pedal foot downward as you whir around the 215.
Three of the next four songs"For Reasons Unknown," "Read My Mind" and (apparent second single) "Bones"capture some of the unclouded catchiness of Hot Fuss, not to mention early-'80s Cars power-pop, but mostly fail to resonate beyond their playing time. The hair-rising "Uncle Jonny" stands out as Sam's Town's answer to "Andy, You're a Star," that weirdo, out-of-place track you skip over 20 times before coming to the realization that it's actually your favorite stop on the first CD.
The Killers try on the big ballad with "My List," but lumbering '70s AOR production bogs down some adroit rock poetry ("When your heart is not able/And your prayers, they're not fables"). Bruce stops by again, this time toting nonsensical circus imagery for the overwrought "The River Is Wild," before the foursome digs up Freddie Mercury for its greatest misstep, thespians-on-speed vaudeville "Why Do I Keep Counting?"
So, ultimately, what is Sam's Town, besides a Vegas insider reference sure to draw dozens of young adult rubberneckers to a nondescript Boulder Strip casino? Not the collection of salient parts Hot Fuss was before it, nor the sweeping wall-to-wall statement Killers devotees have prayed for since. It's far from the nightmarish "sophomore slump" disaster some had feared, and hardly one of the best albums of the past 20 years, as Flowers himself had predicted. Let's just say it's the soundtrack of our boys growing up a little too fast, trading makeup for beards a little too soon and giving up their inner Duran Duran for the lure of Born to Run respectability a little too freely.