The Killers get personal—and a little bit weird—on their fine fifth album

The Killers (sans Dave Keuning).
Photo: Anton Corbijn / Courtesy
Annie Zaleski

Four stars

The Killers Wonderful Wonderful

It feels rather appropriate that the press and promotion cycle surrounding The Killers’ fifth studio album, Wonderful Wonderful, has been full of head-turning personal revelations—from drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. sharing that the band has jammed with Prince Harry for a decade to guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer’s decision not to participate in the band’s upcoming tour. Wonderful Wonderful feels like The Killers’ most introspective record, a project informed by Brandon Flowers’ family life and the vocalist’s accumulated, hard-fought personal wisdom.

That approach suits the band well, since it’s done with sincerity and innocence. Flowers wrote the tender electro ballad “Rut” from the perspective of his wife, Tana, who has dealt with complex PTSD for years; the uplifting, plush song asks for forgiveness, understanding and empathy as she deals with insurmountable obstacles (“I’m climbing, but the walls keep stacking up”). The ominous ’70s glam-funk title track also references Tana, taking solace and hope in religion, while “Tyson vs. Douglas” sees a young Flowers becoming disillusioned by Iron Mike’s infamous 1990 boxing loss. He sings about not wanting to disappoint his own kids in the same way.

Unlike other Killers albums, Wonderful Wonderful also possesses a pronounced sense of humor. “Out of My Mind” pokes fun at Flowers trying to impress his wife by name-dropping Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, and her totally not being impressed, while “The Man” finds Flowers satirizing the boastful persona he assumed during The Killers’ early years. The protagonist affects an arrogant swagger best embodied by the line “’Cause baby I’m gifted/You see what I mean?/USDA, certified, lean.” Flowers leers those last three words in an exaggerated manner that’s gloriously absurd.

“The Man” also ranks among The Killers’ best singles musically, with its robo-disco flourishes, funky grooves and flashy glam guitars. (For context, a recent live performance of the song seamlessly transitioned into David Bowie’s “Fame.”) Produced by Jacknife Lee, Wonderful Wonderful harkens back to The Killers’ lively, keyboard-focused early days. The brisk, riff-heavy “Run for Cover” conjures the halcyon mid-’00s post-punk revival; “Out of My Mind” plays like a Pet Shop Boys synth-pop homage; and “The Calling” is a Kraftwerk-meets-Queens of the Stone Age stomp.

But Wonderful Wonderful also has the confidence to be far more inventive than anything the band has released before. “The Calling” boasts an inexplicable spoken-word intro from Woody Harrelson, while the dreamy “Some Kind of Love” fulfills a longtime Flowers wish by using Brian Eno’s space-age “An Ending (Ascent),” from 1983’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, as source material. Wonderful Wonderful only falters when The Killers aim for giant anthems, like “Life to Come,” which sounds like warmed-over U2. The Killers’ latest proves that weirdness suits them well—and so does vulnerability.

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