Rock bands aren’t typically compelled to address the state of the world. Led Zeppelin, to take the grandest of examples, said nothing publicly about the Vietnam war, unlike many of their peers. “If we are in a position where there’s a lot of people listening to what we say, then to try and marshal thought would probably be the wrong thing to do,” Robert Plant said at a US press conference in 1970. “The whole idea of music from the beginning of time was for people to be happy.”
Making people happy is the primary aim of The Killers, too. Their frontman Brandon Flowers is acclaimed as one of modern rock’s great entertainers, a stentorian-voiced belter who goes for broke in the manner of his former home city, Las Vegas. Their songs are fist-pumping anthems designed for festivals and stadiums, a straightforward exercise in mass escapism. “I feel like a broken record, but we’re neutral,” Flowers said in 2012, in response to the umpteenth question about his band’s politics.
That neutrality is now over. Last year, amid a general turn to activism in popular culture, The Killers released “Land of the Free”, a gospel-influenced single decrying President Donald Trump’s America, with a video directed by Spike Lee. The cudgel of protest music had been taken up — but only briefly, it turns out.
“Land of the Free” doesn’t appear on their new album, Imploding the Mirage. Instead, the opening track, “My Own Soul’s Warning”, finds Flowers struggling to find appropriate language for the times. “What kind of words would cut through the clutter of the whirlwind of these days?” he sings, verbosely. The song is a punchy, Springsteen-influenced stadium-rocker that shrugs off recent upheavals in the band’s line-up: this is the first album they’ve made without guitarist Dave Keuning. But it suffers from Flowers’ uncertainty about what to say in the present era. His solution is to retreat into bombast and flannel.
Tumultuous scenarios recur, set to galloping anthems and voiced with sternum-quivering force. But the situations are sketchy and sometimes nonsensical. “Blowback” is about a “girl” from a “poor white trash” background (with an oddly detailed liking for Tic Tacs) who is trying to leave wherever she’s from. “Caution” features another thinly characterised woman trying to escape her hometown, accompanied by a tastefully excitable guitar solo from Fleetwood Mac exile Lindsey Buckingham.
Lyrical clunkers mount up. “I was lost in the collage, I was imploding the mirage,” the singer cries on the title track, perhaps in enigmatic reference to Las Vegas landmark, the Mirage hotel. “A bullet train will get you there fast,” he adds, switching locales to Japan, “but it can’t guarantee you long last.” Flowers has never played by the lexical rules (“Are we human, or are we dancer?” runs the refrain to an old Killers hit), but the writing here feels especially slapdash. Full of sound and fury that signify little, Imploding the Mirage is an empty vessel.
‘Imploding the Mirage’ is released by Virgin EMI
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