Originally Released October 2nd 2006. Review originally published April 1st 2007.
This was the first piece I ever completed and is therefore some sort of landmark. It hopefully captures the essence of The Killers in their brief imperial phase, one from which Sam’s Town was the key to their ambition-filled transformation.
Even though the protagonists were from Vegas not Vauxhall, Hot Fuss was undeniably a reverent indexing of the best of British pop music from the last two decades of the 20th century, from Oasis to Duran Duran via Queen, New Order and Soft Cell.
Such unfettered nostalgia struck a chord with a global audience and from the carefully honed press hysteria that accompanied the jealous tirades of first single Mr Brightside (The Sunday Times claiming – wrongly – on it’s release that it was the Teenage Kicks of the noughties) to their effortless step up to the global plate at Live 8, a perfectly executed gameplan has helped the Las Vegas quartet’s careers eclipse the kind of hopeful dreams that their home town sells to desperate strangers.
Returning three years later sporting facial hair, wedding rings and wardrobes realised from spaghetti western back lots, reinvention is clearly agenda item #1. Gone is the indie-discodom template which had resonated so successfully, manifesting itself most obviously in the unceremonious discarding of nearly a full albums’ worth of Hot Fuss II-esque material and the hiring of the production duo of U2 acolytes Flood and Alan Moulder.
From it’s moody cover portrayal of an aging showgirl to the lyrical consternation of Uncle Johnny (In which the freebasing titular relative, afraid that aliens were coming via the TV to steal his sperm, attempted to halt the process by shooting his bollocks off) Sam’s Town bore testament that singer Brandon Flowers had a new muse – the vast, bombastic, wrong, epic vista of his own country. Filling his songs with proclamations of regret and ten step piety, Flowers uses Sam’s Town to document the moral and spiritual assignations of his generation as told from the weed-choked trailer parks and ruined back seats of the real Las Vegas, far away from the strip and it’s gaudy neon cathedrals.
In stark contrast, the musical backdrop to these kitchen sink dramas was an epic panorama, vaudevillian (As on the titular opener) and highly orchestrated with Messrs Flood and Moulder delivering their trademark lighters aloft sound-for-stadiums, most obviously on the Tom Petty chiselling When We Were Young. For history lovers, only Bones recalls the honeyed Brit nostalgia of their debut, yet for all it’s romanticised portrayal of blue collar Americana from the perspective of the little man, Sam’s Town isn’t in the same galaxy as Nebraska no matter what tweeny PR muppets born after Springsteen’s opus was released would have you believe.
The gilded nostalgia recalls the country’s heady between the wars Clinton era, Flower’s closing sobriquet “It doesn’t really matter, don’t you worry it’ll all work out” reflecting the haphazard, trust to luck Wizard of Oz styled belief systems on which the American way seems to have been founded. That said, given the musical one and a half trick pony that was Hot Fuss, the creative realisation of the bands’ inevitable stylistic volte-face is executed in a dynamic and committed way. Sam’s Town is far from a bad record. Given the Killers calculated history though, you hoped that they weren’t raiding their cultural touchstones simply to create a path to longevity.