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The Killers
Day And Age Iain Moffat , December 1st, 2008 06:17

The Killers Day And Age

Of the schoolboy errors that have blighted music this century, the only one worse than the notion that vocal gymnastics are shorthand for soul is the idea that turning into U2 circa The Joshua Tree is somehow A Good Thing. In fact, there's no surer way of sonding self-imprtant, bloated, and thoroughly rotten company, and, as a career move, it's left Coldplay nigh-on unsalvageable, sorely scuppered Linkin Park, and not exactly done too many favours for U2 themselves. There is a way out of this foolishness, of course; the bands in question could always go on to make a record that's assured enough to be adventurous and preposterous enough to be fun. It's what we might call the Achtung Baby gambit, and, while it's frustratingly rare, it appears to have found some adherents in the band who could arguably benefit the most from it given the hole of bombast they'd dug for themselves - The Killers.

Admittedly, the signs were promising. After all, news that anyone's working with Stuart Price these days is clearly cause for celebration (consider, if you will, the demented glee that his association with them has sprinkled upon Keane, or how even a cursory glance at Hard Candy illustrates how terribly Madonna's missing him), and then there's 'Human'. It may be the most flagrant rewrite of grammatical rules since Timbaland's 'The Way I Are' (and no amount of saying it's Hunter S Thompson-inspired can ever make it otherwise, although top marks for using that as an excuse), but there's something enormously warming about Dave Keuning's plucky, slightly-out-of-phase guitar meanderings and a certain knowing absurdity to that second verse ("pay my respects to grace and virtue" etc), while it also boasts a middle eight with a higher goosebump quotient than virtually any other top ten single this year. It's proven an unexpectedly welcome return, particularly since Brandon Flowers finally appears to have shaved off not only his moustache but also his messianic pretension, and his vocals are similarly relaxed throughout much of the album. So much so, in fact, that he's comfortable with the echoing, tribal-inflected distortions he's put through in 'This Is Your Life', and can even be found letting out shoops of joy during 'A Crippling Blow'. Frankly, we're a little bit disappointed we don't get an "Arriba!" during 'Joy Ride'; there's certainly plenty of scope for it.

The rest of the band have raised their game again too, reverting to the lissom, somewhat sashaying proposition of the early days. Their current sartorial direction, feathery jackets and suchlike, is reflected in a newfound affection for Roxy Music, with squalling sax here, elegant funk there, and artsome ambitions rearing their heads in abundance, and there's a delicious and slightly bizarre sense of cherry-picking on show that, thankfully, never quite overpowers their presence as reignited electro-fuelled hipsters. The superb 'Losing Touch', for example, does laconic drama like no opening track since Klaxons' 'Two Receivers' while doffing its headgear of choice to OMD's 'Electricity'. 'I Can't Stay' is a harp-and-steel-drum-happy samba that manages to recall both 'Desafinado' and, astonishingly, Kevin Rowland's version of 'Concrete & Clay'. And 'A Dustland Fairytale' - one of a number of tracks here wisely somewhat reliant on fantasy elements in place of Really Meaningful Hectoring (see also 'Neon Tiger' and single-to-be 'Spaceman'. No, not the Babylon Zoo one, though we wouldn'ty put it past them) - hurtles into the Steinmanesque stratosphere of ludicrosity while Flowers sings about seeing Cinderella, the Devil and, in a lovely touch, vandalised castles.

In fact, by the time they reach the desert-evoking epic 'Goodnight, Travel Well', they've engendered such affection that it's actually quite sweet to see them overreaching so recklessly; there was surely no way Brandon could ever have expected to hit or hold most of the notes as it wends its panoramic way, but there's a very real charm to the endeavour itself. No, this isn't Hot Fuss, although that was very much a lightning-bottling exercise by any stretch of the imagination. However, it's much further removed from Sam's Town, and we suspect that may be the point. Their precipitous quality control may have come perilously close to writing them off, but, with Day & Age, The Killers have at the very least earned a reprieve.

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