Indie

Brandon Flowers Reviews Every Album By The Killers

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Like all arena-filling rock bands, The Killers typically operate on a “new album every four or five years” cycle. But the pandemic has driven them to be uncommonly prolific, with last year’s well-received Imploding The Mirage followed up almost exactly one year later with a new LP, Pressure Machine, out this week. Even Killers frontman Brandon Flowers was slightly disoriented by the back-to-back album cycles when recently reached for an interview.

“I prepped myself for Imploding the Mirage interviews, I feel like, not that long ago,” he said. “I keep waiting to be asked about ‘Caution.'”

Actually, I was interested in talking to him about Imploding The Mirage, as well as the rest of his band’s discography. As Flowers himself admitted during our conversation, The Killers have had plenty of ups and downs since the release of their blockbuster 2004 debut, Hot Fuss. After spinning more hits from polarizing late-aughts records like Sam’s Town and Day & Age, they seemed to have lost their mojo during the 2010s as Flowers drifted into a solo career and bandmates Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer became essentially part-time contributors.

With only Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. left to wave the Killers flag, it appeared as though the band might be on its last legs. Then came the rousing Mirage, which hinted at a comeback, and now Pressure Machine, which confirms the band’s resurgence. A song cycle set in Flowers’ boyhood home of Nephi, Utah, Machine features Flowers’ strongest collection of narrative lyrics yet set against the most downbeat music of The Killers’ career.

The contrast between their most recent records couldn’t be more stark: Whereas Mirage was full of punchy anthems, Pressure Machine is deliberately “dusty,” as Flowers puts it, with a near-lo-fi sound that sounds more like early aughts Bright Eyes than their usual U2/Bowie signifiers. And yet they were both made with the same production team of Shawn Everett and Jonathan Rado. Ultimately, both records also deserved to be placed with their very best work.

When asked to reflect on The Killers’ catalogue, Flowers said he usually thinks about how the latest album fits with the older records. But Pressure Machine was made so quickly that he hadn’t had that opportunity — until now.

“I realized the other day when somebody told me this is album number seven, and this is when U2 made Achtung Baby,” he said. “This kind of is our Achtung Baby, without copying that record.”

Hot Fuss (2004)

We didn’t have that classic, fairytale band thing where these four guys grew up together, and they’re ready to take on the world, and all that. We had just recently met each other really. We weren’t complete until we had Mark and Ronnie because we had had a different rhythm section before. When those guys got on board, we were strangely unstoppable. It was crazy.

I take it for granted now the magic moments that we were having all the time. We would go in, and “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine” would come out. A week later, it’d be “Somebody Told Me.” We already had “Mr. Brightside” when we met those guys. I was obsessed with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the comeback album from U2, and then “All These Things That I’ve Done” just fell into our laps. Every week there was a song like that, a “Smile Like You Mean It,” a “Midnight Show.” It was a wild time. We were listening to things like Lust For Life. Mark was really honing in on John Taylor’s bass playing from Duran Duran. It just all clicked, and we were able to make this record. I thought it was just always going to be like that.

“Mr. Brightside” doesn’t get old for me. Yeah, we’ve played it a lot, but I never understood Radiohead not playing “Creep.” They can do what they want to do, but that was something that I never understood. I know you may have seen this quote before, but I like this quote, so I’m going to use it again: I’m able to hear it through the hearts of the people in the venue. Some of them, this is their first time seeing this song live, and so I still am able to harness some excitement for it.

Sam’s Town (2006)

I grew up on a healthy diet of Britpop and New Wave and a lot of U.K. alternative ’80s stuff. Then I had this really strange renaissance in my 20s when I fell in love with American music. I mean, it took me by surprise. I was always Anglophile, and I wanted to be associated with all things U.K. That was the music that shaped the people that I hung out with. When I was 23, 24, I fell in love with American music, and so there started to be a little bit more of a push and pull when we went in to make a record because this new kind of group of people had entered the room. It was Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and Tom Waits now sitting there with Bernard Sumner and Morrissey and Noel Gallagher. It’s not, like, a brawl, but it’s trying to find a way for it all to work.

I didn’t read a lot as a kid. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens, like 19 or 20, that I started to read. With Sam’s Town, it was a combination of reading more, and wanting to evolve, and starting to understand that people write about where they’re from. I think all of that stuff started to circle and simmer, and I wanted to capture it on that second album. I’d always been interested in lyrics and storytelling, whether it was my dad’s music or New Wave music. It was the songs that told stories that I always really gravitated towards. Whether it was Jim Croce telling a story in the car with my dad or it was even something like “Love Vigilantes” from New Order, where they’re trying to do country in Manchester.

I had a tough time with Sam’s Town. I was still so young, and emotionally and socially not where I should have been to be doing interviews. I took the bad reviews pretty hard, because I loved it so much, and I was so proud of it. Critics were really hard on it, but I do attribute those pretty terrible reviews with the live band that we became because I set out to prove to whoever the critic was coming to the show that night how good this album was. I really think that we became a greater live band because of that.

Day & Age (2008)

I thought of it as looking at Sam’s Town from outer space. We wanted to not deviate too far from Las Vegas, but there’s something almost extraterrestrial about Las Vegas. We started experimenting with sounds. It’s more of a pop record, but just by nature of what keyboards do, sometimes you can conjure up laser beams and things like that.

We grew up idolizing Bowie and U2, and people that sort of were shapeshifters. So it was kind of fun to play with that. There were a lot of bands that stick to one style and it’s beautiful, like The Ramones and The Strokes. People like that they have that thing. But we were searching, I think. We’re still searching.

Battle Born (2012)

I did two songs really, really quickly with Brendan O’Brien at the end of my first solo record. I had such a great experience with him that I thought he should do the next Killers record. We did this song, “Crossfire,” that I’m really proud of. Maybe it should have been a Killers song. I just wrote it at the last minute and did it with Brendan.

We enlisted him, but the dynamic wasn’t as easy when you added Ronnie, Mark, and Dave, and so we started looking around for other people maybe to chip in. We went to Nashville with him, and we did some good stuff. We did “The Way It Was.” We did “Here With Me,” most of “Runaways,” though more life was brought to it later on. We did do some good stuff with Brendan, but then we started searching for a team of producers. I always loved the idea of a team, but it’s really difficult to find people that will work together and be gracious with their credits, and their points, and all that bullshit. It’s a pain.

We got Steve Lillywhite because he’s like a dream, right? I mean, his discography is insane. It’s not just the big bands. He has one-off songs that are just incredible. So we tried out Lillywhite. And Daniel Lanois. I had also worked with Lanois on the solo record, and he can be intimidating. At the same time, he just raises the bar. Just by him being in the room, the bar is raised. If you think about his discography, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I got to bring something!” That’s where a song like “Be Still” on that record came in. I’m trying to impress Lanois, and that’s the song that holds up. That song and “The Way It Was” were both tied to basically us trying to impress Daniel Lanois, and those are probably the two best songs on the record.

Wonderful Wonderful (2017)

We enlisted Jacknife Lee for Wonderful Wonderful. He was important for us to have because we were pretty fractured, and he’s kind of a jack of all trades and was able to fill in the gaps.

It was a culmination of a lot stuff. We’ve all evolved into different places, and there’s just no stopping that, so trying to find a way to make it all work has been interesting. We have a pretty unique setup as a band at the moment, but it’s working, and I think it’s okay.

[Breaking up is] sometimes in the back of your mind, but it’s such a big part of my identity being the singer of The Killers, and I never really got mad enough at anybody to let the thoughts get that far off. There are some great songs on Battle Born and Wonderful Wonderful, but as a band, and as a unit, and as just a machine, we weren’t settled, and we weren’t cohesive. Now, there’s a little bit more of a north star. It’s hard because people do have a lot of strong feelings, our fans, about an album like Wonderful Wonderful or Battle Born. But we were drifting a little bit.

Imploding The Mirage (2020)

We were trying to find our footing again, and I just felt a real connection with the ground on Imploding the Mirage and then for sure on Pressure Machine.

I think it was an exciting prospect for Jonathan Rado and Shawn Everett. They teamed up on Mirage. They hadn’t worked with a band this big before, and it was fun for them. We were thinking, “Let’s write Killers-esque songs.” We pushed it pretty hard, but we definitely had that stadium setting in mind. It sounds like, “Oh, you just wanted to make a stadium record…” It’s not that easy. It needs to be transcendent, and it needs to still be able to reach people. It’s a big task, really. We naturally write bigger songs. It’s a part of my voice, and it’s a part of the way that Ronnie plays, and it’s a part of where we’re from. So we’ve never seen it as something to scoff at.

“My Own Soul’s Warning” was just such a thrill. It was the last song that we wrote for the record. We felt like we were missing one more like that, and when it was born it was just really exciting. I love “Blowback,” “Dying Breed” — it’s strange that we’ve never played these for people yet. It seems like they’re going to go off. I mean, “My Own Soul’s Warning” has got to, right?

Pressure Machine (2021)

I think there’s always a little bit of trepidation with a new album. You never know what people are going to do. With Sam’s Town, people saw that as a 180, and now, there’s so much adoration within our fan base for that one. We got a lot of faith that people will come around to this one even if they aren’t into it right at first. It is different, and it’s not Hot Fuss Two.

I really enjoyed writing this record, more than maybe any other record. Lyrically, I got to a new place. I had all these fully complete songs before we went in to record. I never have that. Usually, I’m scrambling to make something rhyme at the end of a session. I definitely credit something like Steinbeck’s Pastures Of Heaven, which has become one of my favorite books, where everything is set in the same valley. It was like, “Can we do that with an album?”

As I get older, I do gravitate towards more music that my dad would have listened to, whether it’s Johnny Cash or John Prine. I started to listen to that stuff around Sam’s Town, just bits and pieces. Then as time goes by, you discover more, and it’s just like anything else. If you look at the opening line of “Quiet Town,” I never would have written what cargo was on the train without somebody like John Prine.

You can get caught up in having money, and having time, in studios, and laboring over something. We were definitely guilty of that. This was different. Shawn was not allowed to mix on the computer. We are mixing on a board, old school to tape, and we weren’t making a bunch of changes. We’re going to try to keep the dust on this thing. We made deliberate decisions on what instrumentation and what forms of recording we were going to use, what mics we were going to use. We’re not going to use plug-ins, we’re going to get the real Echoplex. That kind of stuff, you hear it. It made it a lot of fun in the studio, having those kind of limitations, and being able to stay out of the computer forced us to make a more authentic-sounding thing.

You hear it a lot on a song like “Terrible Thing,” which is a little bit of a tip of the hat to Nebraska. We bought the Tascam. “Terrible Thing” is recorded on the Tascam. The actual Tascam is in the Hall of Fame, so you can’t get that one, but we found the model. I typically sing on a 58, and he recorded all that on 57. It’s just a 57 on me and then a 57 on Rado, and it’s just one take. We were pretty hardcore about it. That’s the one little nod to The Boss for sure on the record.

I would not have made this record without the pandemic. For everyone, the world just stopped. For us, it was towards the end of March 2020 when we realized, “Oh, this tour’s not going to happen.” I’m up in the mountains in Utah, and it’s still full-on winter in late March, so there was this stillness. It was snowing every day, and I was at home for the foreseeable future. I just started to go back to work, and what I found was I don’t have Ronnie there. He’s like a freight train. He’s so loud, and so it allowed for these moments of austerity and restraint. It was the first time that I’d had so many of those moments, and I realized something different was happening.

It just had been nagging at me, to write about Nephi. I still have a sister there, so you hear little pieces of mostly sad news. Once I started going back there, I started to uncover these really emotional feelings that I had for the place, and most of them were tied to shocking events or really sad events. I just wanted to explore it and do some justice to the time that I spent there.

Shawn Everett, our producer, was talking about an episode of This American Life where somebody just sat in a diner and interviewed anybody that would talk to them at a diner somewhere in the middle of America. He was like, “What if we just interviewed people in Nephi, Utah?” We were already mastering the record, so it was so last-minute, but this guy from NPR went down for a few hours to Nephi and sent us these snippets. We were just trying to find the right homes for them all. It was so last-minute that I was scared about it, whether it was the right decision or not. Now, I’ve listened to this album more than I’ve listened to any Killers album, and I credit that to looking forward to those interstitial moments of these people talking.

What was wild was how much of the content that I was singing about they would later reference in the interviews. They would talk about the West Hills. They would talk about the mouth of the canyon. And it was the way that they would talk about it, like “Where do your kids ride their dirt bikes?” “Oh, out in the West Hills” It was a little bit of vindication, I think, for me to show everybody that I wasn’t bullshitting with these songs. I’m really surprised at how much I remembered and observed from such a short amount of time in the town, but it really left a mark on me.

Pressure Machine is out tomorrow via Island Records. Get it here.

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