Warning: This album is capable of drowning the listener in a lethal combination of manufactured nostalgia and Meatloaf.
A glance at the cover of Battle Born tells you all you need to know about the contents therein -- like Jeff the Brotherhood before them, the artwork on The Killers’ new album resembles something a teenage boy would draw on his Trapper Keeper in Algebra II in a misguided effort to appear deep. The Killers really want to prove they’re all deep and shit as well. And they really, really want you to take them seriously, but the image of a horse playing chicken with a classic car is not actually a visual metaphor for a monumental concept – it’s a horse, a shiny car, and a showdown on a deserted road that’s not going to end well for the horse. Unfortunately, things don’t end well for this album, either.
On this, their fourth effort, The Killers yet again grasp for a time machine that will hurl them back to the Eighties where they feel they belong, side-by-side with giant stadium acts like U2 and Bruce Springsteen. While they may thought they were setting the time machine controls for the heart of Stadium Springsteen circa 1985, where Brandon Flowers et al actually landed was smack in the middle of Meatloaf circa any year. The lead single “Runaways” is a direct rip-off of Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” but most of the 15 tracks that make up the deluxe edition of Battle Born sound remarkably like everything Meatloaf ever wrote.
From the opening sounds of Pong that start “Flesh and Bone,” to every single lyric for the next 65 minutes, this is an album manufactured to induce nostalgia. In case The Killers are being too subtle for you, there’s even a track called “The Way It Was,” with lines about driving in daddy’s car to the airfield. If you played a Killers drinking game, taking a shot every time Flowers said “baby,” you’d be nicely toasted by midway through the album; if you kicked the game up a notch and had a shot every time a lyric drowned in its own nostalgia, your family would have to pour you into rehab by the end of “Miss Atomic Bomb” alone.
“From Here on Out” is an onslaught of relentless clichés, an obvious attempt to emulate Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” that unfortunately more closely mirrors Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts.” Springsteen wrote lyrics that were authentically crafted and delivered with conviction -- “You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright” and “… if you’re ready to take that long walk, from your front porch to my front seat -- the door’s open but the ride ain’t free” from “Thunder Road” are positively sublime when compared to a few sample lyrics from Battle Born: “We'd never ride on horses that discourage you" from “Deadlines & Commitments” is inexplicable, but the cringe-inducing chorus of “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy”s in “Heart of a Girl” may be the worst offender on the album.
With this latest effort, The Killers remain the Jennifer Anniston of rock – pervasive, mid-level talents, who’ve achieved a lot of mainstream success, but you just know that somewhere, in the nagging back crevasses of their minds, they strive to be more, something more substantial. They’re good enough, but they’re never going to be truly great. We’ve had flashes of the potential -- Anniston was terrific in Office Space, and Hot Fuss may be one of the top ten albums of the first decade of the 21st century -- but the follow-ups have been largely mediocre. Anniston’s next movie was Rock Star, and the Killers have steadily downgraded from their 2004 high point, with albums that try way too hard for poignancy, but just come across as contrived.
Nobody should be looking for Hot Fuss ll, but is it fair to expect something that at the very least isn’t Bat Out of Hell II? Battle Born is not a train wreck - it’s too overproduced and shiny for that kind of carnage. The larger issue is that The Killers have become so groomed, so choreographed in every detail and pen stroke, that there’s no soul left. They’ve added power ballads to Battle Born, not because they felt compelled to write one, but because everybody else had one in their catalog so they needed one, too - and that’s not how something amazing and important is born, battle or otherwise.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Battle Born can be summed up by a trip to the suburbs; the album came out a week ago, and it’s already on the sale rack at your local Target. Right next to Anniston’s The Bounty Hunter.