Once I Was An Eagle
Preposterous and candid, The Killers have returned to what they do best.
After the best part of two years on hiatus, drained from hammering 2008 album Day & Age on tour, and following lukewarm receptions to lukewarm solo albums from singer Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Las Vegas's greatest export have refocused. They sound revitalised too.
While it did the numbers and produced an endless stream of hits, Day & Age was really one big talking point ("Are we human/Or are we dancer?") and a sequence of diminishing returns. Over-reliance on their yen for electro-synth stylings – as opposed to those stadium rock urges – had left The Killers sounding flimsy, at the polar end of the spectrum to 2006's Sam's Town where they'd wiped too much colour from their palette. Debut Hot Fuss had happened on the perfect equilibrium after all: The Killers are best when they fuse bombast and New Romanticism, where Bruce Springsteen meets Depeche Mode. And who wouldn't want to witness that encounter?
Regrouping at their Nevada studio – called Battle Born, wouldn't you know? – The Killers threw themselves wholeheartedly into their quasi-reunion and the results are a new zest for that Hot Fuss mix, for big rock bluster and some pretty corny stories.
After a deceptively subdued entrance where you'd swear we're hearing the resurrection of a-ha, Flesh And Bone gets thumpier and punchier – stakes are high, faces flash crimson and it's heading for a fairytale end. Brandon Flowers' introductory pep talk gets the blood flowing and from here on in Battle Born is all wheels turning, engines running, neon lights and wreckages of broken dreams. It's Springsteen gone sequin-encrusted glitz, and again, who wouldn't want to be there for that?
But all that vibrant imagery of star-spangled hearts and boys with eager eyes would be empty grandstanding if the songs weren't up to much. Joyously, The Killers deliver. Single Runaways surfs cascading pianos and pummelling beats to create an anthem for the ages, while Miss Atomic Bomb (what a title) isn't shamed by its late Mr Brightside steal, chiming and ranting to a dramatic pomp rock conclusion. They're trumped by Heart Of A Girl where Flowers nabs Bono's cowboy hat to transform the workaday into the spiritual, and everyone sings in unison for a stirring finish. If your lighters aren't in the air you've a soul of granite.
Only The Rising Tide feels like filler but even that has the treat of Flowers' best David Bowie impression and a filthy garage guitar solo. And From Here On Out is skimpy stuff but has a jaunty Traveling Wilburys lick about it. Even the throwaways are fun.
Flowers implores "Don't break character" on the lovely big ballad Be Still, and his band never do, masters of the air punch, overlords of the heartbreaking key change. Battle Born may be corny as hell, but – come on – The Killers are Las Vegans and they're back where they belong.