Monday, 1 October 2012

The Killers - Battle Born

 
 
I can't speak for those who reside on the other side of the Atlantic, but The Killers have made quite a name for themselves over here in the UK. Such a thing as this is equally expectant as much as it is surprising. Amidst all the four-piece bands that dominated both the music charts and scenes alike, the Las Vegas quartet shone a pure Americana energy of guitars, drums and far-flung sounds that rocked our tiny little isle yet came off less like a bull in a china shop and more a bull in a china shop ready to be demolished. The point being is that their sound has always been welcomed and valued by the indie crowds of post-millenia Britain. And despite the transformation from indie new-kids to rock-anthem establishments and then, more recently, towards the dance-pop charisma of today, people have always found time for the band that sound so suited to these isles, it's almost a double-take to realize they're actually from the greater of the Anglo-speaking nations. So you'd expect then 'Battle Born' to be the band's direct and unfiltered wake-up to the potential doubters or avidly-hungry die-hards that they are back and they mean business. But with such a huge gap between studio recordings (four years) there's a risk that the band will have either swayed too far from the honest truth of quality and/or choose instead to be safe rather than sane.

Well regardless of how the band decide on structuring their tracks individually, they certainly decide unanimously on starting their records with an immediate charge of cinematic high-production rock. 'Flesh And Bone' rummages together a twinkle of synth before Brandon Flowers reintroduces his deeply soulful charge of vocals - his lyricism unintentionally providing the back-story to the band's struggled discography, 'They say I'll adjust/And God knows that I must/But I'm not sure how'. Flowers has always been one for his escalating subject matter and the directness it holds in its momentum and pacing, but like most Killer tracks, the attention is less on the lyrics - despite all their intended emphasis - and more on the music which here is a grand deliverance of guitar hooks and midnight glistens of keyboard notes that twinkle and glow between the cloud of rock the band let loose on us. 'What are you afraid of? And what are you made of?' repeats through the song, again adding a nod to the band's own idealism of simply going for it without little concern for the after effect.

In moments such as this, it works quite well because the music feels more reactive and responsive to itself - it's an expression; it's there to be experienced. With 'Runaways', the music feels less intentional to hit you head-on like some blur of a motor vehicle and more like you're actually inside the vehicle. The vocals instead dare are at the wheel and this is where the problem arises. Flowers comes across as too encompassed and engrossed in his own expression it feels overly indulgent and devoid of any consideration for the sounds around it. 'You gotta know that this is real/Baby why you wanna fight it? It's the one thing you can choose' The music then loses any real character or charisma and simply comes off almost cabaret in nature. Even with tracks like 'The Way It Was' and the occasional uplift of a catchy string of notes or choice in how the guitars come across in, it's Flowers again that drags the song down into a state of mediocre push-pulling between the vocals and the music.

'You're looking for a way out/I can feel it' Flowers begins on 'A Matter Of Time' which presents itself as more of a drawn-back retelling of events and emotions - the softening of keys in its introduction giving such an illusion. But instead, we find the guitars are hefty, the drum work is thunderous and it's just the same-old showing. And with lyrics such as these you can't help but feel like you the listener should be the one to answer such a question. Well, it would be equally fitting to state you may not even suggest such a thing, because the band feel like they're not so much unwilling, but just purely unable to break out of that barricade of arena-sized decibel-escalating rock. When the band do mix it up a bit as is the case on 'Deadlines And Commitments', it works rather well, and you feel as if you're begging for more of this same scope and level of daring experimentation. The warming glow of synths and cooling pluck of strings brings a much finely crafted atmosphere to the track and Flower's vocals fit a lot better aside them rather than being purely dominant. True, it's not without rooting some rock-esque executions of production and engineering, but the simplicity in its synth hooks and its harmonizations is exactly what is needed more on a record like this.

'Miss Atomic Bomb' then is a perfect example of Killers' rock-orientated heavier deliverance but placed in a more transgressive and progressive means of delivering the music. The guitars almost sail into centre focus, the faint distancing slowly but surely coming in and laying softly underneath Flowers' vocals. And despite the grand scale of its deliverance later on, the way the track feels much more like it's slowly revealing itself rather than ultimately being shoved out into the open in a blinding flash of sound. The guitar strums and the clash of drums feel more like their keeping to their limitations of space and positioning and because of it, the longing need to see where this track leads is ever more inviting and intriguing. It does whimper out rather than end on what would have been considered a better option of leaving a lasting mark on the record, but the somber contrast against what has already become too much of a recycled nature is worth the focus. 'Heart of a Girl' sees acoustics marking the territory and borders for which the track speaks out. Even through the fantastical sparkle of synths and the ecstatic resurgent of electric guitars, it's a welcome retreat into humbler abodes than simply remaining out and open to the World.

But even with this variation, the material and the content doesn't necessarily drift from your atypical tradition of rock ballads. And with this, there comes that dilemma and potential risk of the listener getting stuck in a cycle of repeated ideas and looping mechanisms. It's so much of a risk that what good and benefit the band do manage to pull off, ultimately gets outweighed quite grossly by the concept and the subject matter. With a track like 'Be Still', it can be a hit as much as it could be a miss as to which way it swings with an audience appeal. The simple looping drum machine twitching in the backdrop carries the song in a flutter of brass drone, violin sweeps and steady piano keys. But Flowers runs the risk of taking dominance and, quite bluntly, ruining this gorgeous assemble of instrumentation. The lyrics do fade in and out and can, at times, feel complacent with the rhythmic charm of the song, 'Don't break character/You've got a lot of heart/Is this real or just a dream.'

You can't fault a band like The Killers for placement and deciding on what music does justice and what sounds don't when it comes down to the simple nature of keeping your tracks going. But music is more than just lasting a desired time length. And sometimes I feel that the band have come to the conclusion that drive really is the only way to keep momentum. Because of it, the repeated use of ballad-like structures and execution of their rock aesthetic is little more than a predicted attempt at filling empty space with substance. 'Battle Born' is certainly full to the brim with this substance, but I wouldn't necessarily class it as complete or fulfilling. Rather, it's forgettable in the most part and devoid of any form of repeated interest in similar fashion. Their best efforts reside in where they dare try to imagine themselves somewhere other than looking out towards a 70,000+ crowd. But even these feel small in comparison to the larger bulk of overtly forward rock sounds. Just like the very crowds they seem to love and fascinate in playing to: bulks of bodies confining the tinier and less extorted ones to the tiny gaps between their bloated selves.
~Jordan

5.7

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