The Killers go through some new motions

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By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  January 20, 2009

LEAVING LAS VEGAS: “After you’re gone for a long time and you come back home, it kind of makes a man out of you,” says Ronnie Vannucci (seated). “You see how different you are.”

Or are we dancey? Rockers moonlighting with dance producers. By Daniel Brockman.
When you get down to it, the world of rock and pop is really about fantasy and illusion. Or, more precisely, about the fabrication of authenticity, the right contrast of pain and pleasure making the music taste and feel like life itself. Which is why the best pop music often seems, on the surface, to be complete nonsense. Your average over-analytical rock critic might look at the chorus of "Human" (which asks, "Are we human/Or are we dancer?"), the lead single from the new album Day & Age by rock dramatists the Killers, and declare it the sort of meaningless piffle that clogs charts. But screw that — to wrench the lyrics from the song and dissect them on a page is to ignore the way the swelling, insistent beat and interlocking melodies merge into the climax of the lyrical plea. It's a bit more complex than a wonky line.

And the genius behind this clever interplay? Day & Age was helmed by Stuart Price, a British producer and electronic musician famous for producing Madonna's megahit 2005 album Confessions on a Dancefloor, as well as for his own take on French house under the moniker Les Rythmes Digitales. For the Killers, Price "has become a fifth member of the band," says drummer Ronnie Vannucci, speaking to me during a rare respite from rehearsals for their impending tour (which hits Agganis Arena on Monday). "He really understands us, he has the same sensitivities as us, similar sensibilities. And he definitely added an interesting dance feel on some songs, especially 'Human.' When [Killers vocalist] Brandon [Flowers] came up with that, it was almost like a little folk song, and Stuart just kind of helped with giving it a different feel, a modern twist — and he gave it a strong dance influence. He took this simple folk song and took it in this very obvious dance direction and brought out this almost timeless-sounding feel. It's this really strange dichotomy."

The Killers have never been strangers to the dance floor, having blown up out of their home town of Las Vegas when two singles from their 2004 debut, Hot Fuss ("Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me"), went Top 10 and became massive international hits — in large part because of their rock-concert/dance-floor compatibility. With Day & Age, and the choice of Price as the fifth Killer steering them in a groove-shaking direction, they seem to be zagging from the zig of 2006's sophomore effort, Sam's Town, which saw them eschew dance-floor mayhem for a more earnest vibe full of Southwestern desert mythology — as well as flamboyant show tunes like the title track and "This River Is Wild." "With Sam's Town," Vannucci explains, "the songs we were coming out with were much more introspective and fictional than what we were bringing across before in the lyrics. But you know, we spent two years out on the road, seeing the world, and we grew up! After you're gone for a long time and you come back home, it kind of makes a man out of you. You see how different you are, and you realize how different the place you come from is."

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