They appeared as if from nowhere (the cultural wasteland that is Las Vegas) to became the brightest young things of 2005. Their irrepressible songs that nicked the best of Duran Duran, New Order, Depeche Mode and vintage U2 became so ubiquitous that their lyrics “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” even infiltrated Robbie Willams’ Live8 set.
Some bands cope with such early success by repeating the formula, recording a difficult fuck you album to kill off the fan base, or just imploding. But these four boys from Sin City did the only thing they know how: go bigger. In every way.
The songs, as a result of singer Brandon Flowers’ newfound obsession with Bruce Springsteen, are bolder, more epic. The music sounds sweeping and massive, courtesy of the only producer to have worked with both U2 and Depeche Mode. Even the album artwork, by the photographer behind U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ cover and most of Depeche Mode’s sleeves, is more brazen.
On ‘Sam’s Town’, the band are going in for the kill. And they’re clearly not afraid to reveal their intended victim: the biggest band in the world today (aka U2, if you fell asleep during the previous paragraph).
So the clinically addictive first single ‘When You Were Young’, apart from featuring another iconic Flowers line: “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus”, sounds even more like Bono and co than Chris Martin and Coldplay could ever hope to. Just listen to that guitar — if imitation is the greatest form of flattery, The Edge must be justifiably chuffed.
But, similarities aside, the big, bright, glossy song is a killer — and an excellent introduction to an album that just keeps on coming. A journey of sorts, bookended by an intentionally hokey “enterlude” and “exitlude”, it’s the musical equivalent of driving a big American convertible down one of those straight desert roads from the movies. With the top down, and the wind blowing in your hair.
The pedal-to-the-metal title track, with Flowers’ machine gun vocals losing the affected English accent he once favoured, is effectively a warning to buckle up — you’re in for one helluva ride. The keyboard and synth heavy ‘Bling (Confessions Of A King)’ may start off as a ballad, but by the time it reaches the prerequisite Big Chorus you can almost see the packed stadium crowds with their fists in the air. “It’s not so bad,” Flowers repeats throughout. Damn right, man.
‘For Reasons Unknown’ again begins tentatively before kicking into gear, the simplest and most direct track on an album that’s more complex, less instant than their debut. Songs like the comfortable, effortless ‘Read My Mind’ and the slow march of ‘My List’ take a while to reveal their charm. And ‘Bones’, with its blend of gospel and ‘Born To Run’ era Springsteen (check out that saxophone and trombone backing), initially seems like a potholed stretch on that straight desert road. But then no trip is complete without a couple of detours.
Or a bit of roadkill. Less gritty than grating, jarring rather than jagged, the plodding ‘Uncle Jonny’ gets the Clunker of the Album award for desperately trying (and failing) to capture a garagey sound that really doesn’t suit them. Like Elvis trying to pull off a glittering jumpsuit.
The suitably raging ‘This River Is Wild’, with the biggest chorus this side of ‘When You Were Young’, gets the trip back on track though — a glorious epic that truly shows how the subtlety and oh-so-British irony of their debut has disappeared off the map.
But the new destination The Killers take you is so much better. It’s ‘Sam’s Town’ or bust.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.