Hitsville USA

By MATT ASHARE  |  October 11, 2006

But back to “When You Were Young,” a theme that used to be a Springsteen favorite. The synths are more like strings here, the beat is muscular, and the guitars ring out anthemically as Flowers intones, “We’re burning down the highway skyline/On the back of a hurricane/That started turning when you were young.” Ask a team of song doctors to write a U2 song with lyrics by Bruce and this is pretty much what you’d get. That wasn’t necessary: to their absolute credit, Flowers and his mates — Dave Keuning, Mark Stoermer, and Ronnie Vannucci — have mastered the art all by themselves. In fact, there are two distinct modes on Sam’s Town: Flowers has his Bono style, grasping for the good, tortured soul lyrics (“For Reasons Unknown,” “When You Were Young,” and “Bling (Confessions of a King)”), and he’s also got his moments of poetic hominess (“Sam’s Town” and “Uncle Jonny”), where he peppers the lyrics with little Springsteenisms.

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At heart, though, the Killers are the same band who recorded Hot Fuss. That’s not a bad thing. Sam’s Town is a bolder, more diverse album, but it’s dotted with echoes of new waves past. They’ve picked up a few new tricks — the driving beat and “I Will Follow” guitar figures that give a lyric like “The good old days/The honest man/The restless heart/The promised land/The subtle kiss that no one sees” a touch of that U2 gravitas. Sam’s Town also has the veneer of an artist album. It’s not a formula they’ve perfected yet because, well, there is no formula. And Flowers is given to fits of maudlin theatrics and empty poetics. Still, Bono and U2 went through some growing pains. And it isn’t that they haven’t delivered the expected two or three irresistible singles — they’ve just placed them in the kind of album that’s expected of serious artists. Some day the Killers may just be that.

“Loser” is one of those singles that can kill an entire career. Beck must have realized this as soon as it hit the radio in ’94, because he retaliated almost immediately, releasing the lo-fi indie albums Stereopathetic Soul Manure (Flipside) and One Foot in the Grave (K) in quick succession after his Geffen debut, Mellow Gold, went gold. He’s remained a sonic shapeshifter ever since, a respected album artist who drops a hot single every now and again. In recent years, however, he’s fallen into a pattern, following up every Dust Brothers–produced Odelay-style hip-pop disc with a more singer-songwriterly band-oriented one produced by Nigel Godrich, and mixing it up by inviting the Flaming Lips to join him on a tour and giving the entire Guero over to remixers for Guerolito.

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