The Killers reach higher, plus Beck and Evanescence
There are singles artists and there are album artists. It’s no secret who the critics tend to favor, and a lot of musicians come down on the same side. Yeah, it’s great to have a hit song on the radio, move a couple of million units, win a Grammy, hit MTV’s buzz buttons, and sell out arenas. But the gravitas of a Radiohead, a U2, or a Springsteen is the holy grail of the album artist. Even Madonna, a brilliant singles artist from the beginning, gets serious attention for her albums. In the realm of pop, however, the territory occupied by the Britney Spearses and Christina Aguileras of the world, things are much simpler. A solid single or two is plenty to build an album — hell, a career — around. And celebrity is an end in itself, with film cameos, endorsement deals, and now reality television shows there for the taking.
COMFORT ZONE: The Killers try their darndest, but the new album isn’t all that different from the last.
The Killers were the right band with the right sound at the right time two years ago when they debuted with Hot Fuss (Island/Def Jam). They had that neo-new-wave sound down pat, with synth-rock confections that had a contemporary feel even if they were loaded with post-punk nostalgia. Most important, they had the singles — unabashedly catchy tunes like “Mr. Brightside” that didn’t have to be about anything. And in Brandon Flowers they had a frontman who looked as if he could have walked off a Duran Duran album jacket and, with a quick contempo makeover, been cast as a star. He even seemed to have a trace of a British accent, though everyone knew he came from Las Vegas. Yet even as the industry got all hot and fussy about Hot Fuss, you could sense Flowers’s discomfort. He saw “Mr. Brightside” as a one-way ticket to one-hit-wonderdom. And that’s not what he had in mind.
So in spite of every sign that the neo-new-wave post-punk craze was trending upward, he got proactive and started distancing himself from the hype surrounding Hot Fuss with quotes that suggested the Killers were just a rock band. Maybe he saw that review in Playlouder that noted, “What’s apparent from playing this album is that almost everything they’ve got is a killer single.” Or the New Music Express remark, “The Killers have made half of the album of the year. Lucky that now we’ve got Napster, you only need to buy half.” Ouch! Those Brits Brandon was mimicking sure have a way with words. It became apparent that the next Killers album would be a major statement — something that could transcend simple neo-whatever tags and deliver more than just good looks and radio hits. The Killers would make their strategic next stand far from where the happy-to-be-liked Franz Ferdinands of post-post-punkdom existed. They’d be going for what Radiohead had done in the wake of “Creep,” or, better yet, Coldplay after the enormous success of “Yellow.” Half an album just wouldn’t do.
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