When you consider The Killers wrote ‘Mr Brightside’ in their first band practice, it’s tragic to see how far they have fallen with Battle Born. The album you always felt Brandon Flowers and co had in them but hoped they’d never make, it completes a sad decline from having arena rock sewn up on Hot Fuss to succumbing to its easy excesses. This is a collection of massive-sounding, impeccably-produced songs which mask their dearth of ideas with hackneyed bluster.
The underlying theme behind Battle Born is the same one which worked well enough on Sam’s Town; small-town romance matched with Springsteen-esque grandiosity. Trouble is our old pal Brandon is relentless in falling back on his go-to lyrical tropes. A master of saying the same thing using slightly different anecdotes, young love and classic automobiles are never far from the frontman’s mind. Whether he’s “driving in my daddy’s car to the airfield” (‘The Way It Was’) or just reminiscing, “wheel’s are turning, I remember when you were mine” (‘Here With Me’), this obsession with heartland Americana can’t mask the image of a bloke who’s desperately short of fresh inspiration.
As if to over-compensate for such tired wordplay, power-chords are scattered across the album’s opening half like a fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Lead single ‘Runaways’ is clogged full of them and chugs along at a decent pace: it’s good enough for next year’s festival headline slots, yet it won’t sit pretty on what must be an impending Greatest Hits collection. ‘Flesh and Bone’ is a much better mesh of Depeche Mode synths and U2-style emotional grandstanding with a daringly theatrical string-laden middle-third.
Mostly, these hulking chunks of anthemia surge forward in a directionless push towards mass appeal. ‘A Matter Of Time’ is way too cluttered with “woah, woah, woah-ing” to tug at your heartstrings, ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ fades out just as it hits its stride and ‘The Rising Tide’ is classic Killers by-the-numbers mid-album filler. Backed by a production roster of Stuart Price, Steve Lillywhite and Damian Taylor amongst several others, you can’t fault the authentically expansive soar of Battle Born, but rather the leaden songs this A-list talent has been called in to prop up.
The great irony of this unending roll call of backend staff is that no-one amongst Brendan O'Brien, Daniel Lanois and the rest can have held enough of the big picture to push recording sessions back in the right direction. ‘From Here On Out’ careens with the cynical twang of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac but feels like a curio shoved in two tracks before the album’s close. Both ‘Deadlines And Commitments’ and ‘Be Still’ sparkle as understated ballads where Flowers’ vocals are given space to reach beyond the booming wail or rootsy spoken word whisper they naturally flit between.
After making it big off the back of a Murder Trilogy, The Killers seem at a loss as to where they’re heading next. No wonder Battle Born’s title is borrowed from their home state of Nevada: to quote a much better bunch of stadium-entertainers, this is a band who are running to stand still.
4Robert Leedham's Score