Review: The Killers, Wonderful Wonderful

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The Killers, Wonderful Wonderful album art

Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book on the New York rock renaissance of the 2000s, features a chapter dedicated to the Killers. Though they’re from Las Vegas rather than New York, Goodman and the experts she quotes argue that the Killers took the New York sound to greater popular success than the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or any other band ever did. Journalist Marc Spitz says, “The band that wanted it, and were fucking ready for it, were the Killers.”

By all accounts, the Killers have gotten what they wanted. They headline festivals. They have a greatest hits album. Someone realized this year that “Mr. Brightside” has charted in the UK every year since it was released in 2004, an astonishing achievement. But if the Killers have gotten everything they wanted when they started out, what do they want know?

Half of them don’t want to tour, apparently. Three quarters of them have released music through solo or side projects (the second solo outing from Brandon Flowers, The Desired Effect, didn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserved). But on their fifth studio album Wonderful Wonderful, it’s unclear whether the Killers want to push their band back to and beyond the success of their first two records or if they want to coast on their back catalog into the sunset.

The act of putting out a new album seems to suggest that the Killers are still in it to win it, but Wonderful Wonderful is little more than a collection of half-hearted gestures to older glories. The single “Run for Cover” finds the band grasping at the ghost of Hot Fuss; “Tyson vs. Douglas” in sound and theme evokes the Americana of Sam’s Town, but lacks the heart. You can hear the band’s usual influences haunting most of the tracks: Springsteen, Dire Straits, U2. U2 looms especially large — the Killers know they’ll be playing big venues for the foreseeable future, and they’re writing songs for the occasion. There are a lot of stadium anthems on Wonderful Wonderful, and while they may offer a few seconds of catharsis, you forget them the minute they pass. When the Killers shoot for U2, they come away with Coldplay.

Frankly Coldplay isn’t that bad, though, and it may be enough for the Killers. The band can probably release and tour albums like Wonderful Wonderful for the next 15 years if they so choose. They will continue to fill arenas and play “Mr. Brightside” at the encore, and people, this writer included, will love it. Perhaps each individual Killer could pick up a personal project, like solo music or sustainable farming or something, and finance it with three tours a decade.

There are moments on Wonderful Wonderful, however, that suggest these guys want more. Unsurprisingly, these moments are the best of the album. On “Rut” Flowers pleads for us not to give up on him — the Killers still have great music in them, even if “Rut” isn’t quite it. “Have All the Songs Been Written?” follows a similar theme — the Killers seem to genuinely wonder if they have anything left in the tank. It’s a slow burner featuring some lovely Knopfler-esque guitar over Flowers singing, “I just need one more to get through to you,” one more generation-defining hit. That song isn’t on Wonderful Wonderful, but it’s good to know the Killers are still interested in finding it.

Look, the new Killers album is fine. You probably won’t listen to it, and that’s fine, too. Odds are the first time you hear these songs, you’ll be seven beers deep at a closing festival set, learning the lyrics in in drunken real time so you can belt them back to Brandon Flowers. Over half the songs on Wonderful Wonderful seem to have been written expressly for this occasion. On this count, they succeed. “Rut,” “Life to Come,” and “Some Kind of Love” have stadium-ready choruses. “Wonderful Wonderful” and “Tyson vs. Douglas” may be forgettable album tracks, but they’ll sound great live. And Flowers, Vegas showman that he is, will undoubtedly nail the campy lead single “The Man,” especially the “USDA certified lean” line, every show. With a stacked back catalogue and impeccable stage sensibilities, the Killers are set to the point that new albums are secondary.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Not so long ago, Flowers staked the claim that the Killers were one of the best rock bands of the past 15 years. Despite some lackluster records in recent years, there’s an argument to be made there. The Killers have the hits, they have the charisma, and for a time they had the ambition. On Wonderful Wonderful, there are glimpses of that ambition on an otherwise routine album from a top-notch band on autopilot. But if the Killers want to capture the moment like they did a decade ago, they’ll have to want it more. C PLUS