The Killers: Imploding the Mirage review – an urge to surge

About two thirds of the way through Lizzy Goodman’s history of 2000s US alt-rock, Meet Me in the Bathroom, the Killers turn up. The sense that the book’s other protagonists think they’re a little non-U is hard to miss. They are not, by the standards of the time, cool: gawky and awkward in person, unapologetically ambitious and commercial, not interested in the kind of hedonism that derails half their peers.

The Killers: Imploding the Mirage album artwork.
The Killers: Imploding the Mirage album artwork. Photograph: AP

Seventeen years on, they are also the only band in Meet Me in the Bathroom still headlining festivals and playing stadiums. No one sounds much like the Strokes or Yeah Yeah Yeahs these days, but the pop sensibility and synth-heavy sound of the Killers’ 2004 debut album Hot Fuss has become the lingua franca of what used to be called indie rock. There seems every chance the Killers might be the Queen of their era: a band who were regarded with suspicion by the gatekeepers of hip, whose big hits end up enduring, still played on the radio and high in the streaming charts 30 or 40 years after all the arguments about who was and wasn’t cool have long been forgotten.

And yet, these are faintly troubled times for the Killers. They have scored precisely one big hit single in the last 12 years. Their last album, 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful was both a transatlantic chart-topper and a relative flop: its sales less than half of its predecessor, 2012’s Battle Born, which sold half as well as its predecessor, 2008’s Day & Age. People will pack out huge venues in order to hear Mr Brightside, When You Were Young and Human for as long as the band care to play them, but the question of whether or not they’re slipping into heritage rock territory hangs over Imploding the Mirage.

Its title suggests a radical reinvention, but the sound sticks fast to the space the Killers mapped out in the mid-noughties, where anglocentric 80s pop – New Order and Depeche Mode albums at the front of the record collection, Rio by Duran Duran tucked at the back – meets the roaring heartland rock of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Then again, the Las Vegas hotel demolition to which the title refers was done to build something bigger, shinier and more extravagant, which feels in keeping with the album’s approach. Everything is cranked up to 10; every surface is planed and polished; everything booms with echo, as if you’re already listening to it in the nosebleed seats of a sports arena. And everything surges. Big riffs surge from ambient keyboard and vocal intros; finales surge bombastically when you assume songs are running out of juice; Brandon Flowers’ vocal surges into soaring, raw-throated rabble-rousing whenever songs reach the choruses, which themselves surge, out of verses bedecked with urgently strummed acoustic guitars (Blowback), verses built on vaguely Talking Heads-ish funk-rock (Fire in Bone) and verses based on a beat sampled from Neu’s Hallogallo (Dying Breed).

Samples from early 70s krautrock notwithstanding, experimentation isn’t the point of Imploding the Mirage. For all the leftfield alt-rock names in the credits – Weyes Blood; Adam Granduciel of the War on Drugs – this isn’t a bid for the kind of hipster credibility that’s eluded the Killers from the start. In terms of ambition, the most telling name present is Lindsey Buckingham, formerly of Fleetwood Mac, who contributes a stinging guitar solo to the surge at Caution’s conclusion.

It’s a concerted attempt to re-establish the Killers as multi-platinum recording artists, their album sales commensurate with the size of their live audiences, and it might well succeed. If none of the songs here has the undeniable hit quality of Mr Brightside et al, they certainly work in suitably anthemic style, with catchy, simplistic hooks, air-punch-inducing dynamics and lyrics designed to bond vast crowds together – “we’re a dying breed”, “we’re running towards a place where we’ll walk as one” – and in which people are invariably doing the kind of things people tend to do in big stadium rock anthems: pledging undying fealty, overcoming the odds, getting out of here. In isolation – or scattered in a setlist between the songs people have actually paid to hear – it’s all fine. The problem comes when you take it as a whole. The lack of light and shade, the point-blank refusal to countenance subtlety, becomes wearing. It’s surge overkill.

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You could argue that Lightning Fields, with its gently graceful piano, offers a degree of respite from the ongoing supersized ramalama, but such things are relative: surging into a big old gospelly chorus, it’s dialled down only in the sense that the 1944 eruption of Mount Vesuvius was dialled down by comparison with the one that destroyed Pompeii. Perhaps that doesn’t matter – the Killers didn’t outstrip their contemporaries by coyly hiding their light under a bushel – but the feeling that Imploding the Mirage is less than the sum of its parts persists long after it’s left you exhausted.

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Khruangbin: First Class
From an album released at the start of the summer, the perfect track to soundtrack summer’s dying days: hazy slo-mo funk drift, equal parts Air and Roy Ayers.