“I come from the core of the flag that bears the name ‘Battle Born,’” frontman Brandon Flowers sings of the Nevada state flag on the opener to the Killers’ first album in four years. “They call me the contender, I listen for the bell / My face flashing crimson from the fires of hell.”
The Killers have always been a band that sticks strong to its dry, dusty, sun-torched Nevada roots. From previous songs like “A Dustland Fairytale” to entire albums like Sam’s Town and Brandon Flowers’ solo debut, Flamingo, Flowers and the Killers have always been very aware of where they come from and how that has affected them. Like Sam’s Town (the Killers’ second album) and Flamingo, Battle Born is conscious of the effects the Silver State has had on their development — both positive and negative.
The Killers have always been on the better end of Top 40 music, saturating their songs with shimmering synths, delicate piano, colossal guitar and Flowers’ glossy voice. Like their debut, Hot Fuss, this album is tinted with that Las Vegas gleam that made them famous as 22-year-olds in 2004.
Battle Born also sees a number of songs centered on longing and love lost. The majority of songs here deal with yearning for life, Nevada or a relationship that once was. And while the majority of rock songs are also focused on that specific sense of longing, the topic can only survive for so long on a particular record before it’s labeled a break-up album. But even with the number of break-up songs on Battle Born, what we have here isn’t Beck’s infamously depressing Sea Change or even Dylan’s melancholic classic, Blood on the Tracks. Battle Born is miles apart from them both, simply because of the instrumental approach. The arena-rock sound the group has always been accustomed to is larger than ever, and the mastering of this sound is the reason they have become this phenomenal exception where both Top 40 radio and Indie Snobs alike can finally come to an agreement on the same artist. The Killers are unique in that they have cemented themselves in both realms of these listeners’ iPods.
That sound has become very distinct for the group over the years, but the sound on Battle Born is very different than what shaped Hot Fuss. And although Battle Born isn’t quite to the caliber of their debut, the Killers have always been very innocuous in their approach to writing new songs. But that’s not to say that they don’t take chances. A stronger presence of vocal harmonies is something that’s new this time around — a bold move, especially when considering their performances in front of millions of people. These melodic back-up harmonies are much more distinct than before on songs like “The Way It Was” and album closer “Battle Born.” Although seemingly minor additions, these extra vocals can create a magnitude of difference on the overall sound.
This evolving sound the Killers have been developing has reached a certain peak on Battle Born, but the reasons they strummed their ways into our hearts in the first place are still there. “Deadlines and Commitments” is a song that’s on the darker side of the Killers’ sound (dark, of course, being relative in this case). At the end of the song, a call-and-response between drummer Ronnie Vanucci Jr. and bassist Mark Stoermer briefly breaks out, with Vanucci battering finely-tuned toms that recall a similar sound found in “Spaceman” off of 2008’s Day & Age. And “Runaways,” the first single off of the album, strikes a string of nostalgia, bringing listeners back to the tune “Sam’s Town.” Both stories of a need to get out.
The Killers have always been able to match heartfelt lyrics with sentimental instrumentation. This is especially strong on “Heart of a Girl” and “Be Still.”
“Don’t break character / you’ve got a lot of heart,” Flowers cries on the latter, as ethereal synths shine in the background. “Is this real or just a dream? / Rise up til the sun, labor til the work is done.” This line seems to have worked as a sort of testament for Flowers’ dedication to the band after talk of the group being done for good surfaced during their four year break. This is what makes Flowers an impeccable frontman — his commitment to his group, fans, and music. And the band’s ability to match him in energy behind his powerful vocals is a combination that will always solidify their potential.