I recall reading a review of the Smiths’ 1986 album The Queen is Dead in which the writer gushed about the lyrical genius of their front man—a very young Steven Patrick Morrissey. The reviewer’s closing line stuck with me, because it rang true and because it struck me as a particularly bold prediction. “This guy,” he said regarding Morrissey, “is going to be around for a long time.” Well, over two decades later, Morrissey is still churning out great records and has proven to be one of rock music’s finest songsmiths. It all seems so obvious now, but how could that reviewer have been so sure?
Recently, I’ve come to a similar conclusion regarding the frontman of another band, coincidentally upon the release of their third studio album (as TQID was for the Smiths). The band is the Killers, and the frontman and main lyricist is Brandon Flowers. It wasn’t until last year that I purchased my first Killers album—their debut, Hot Fuss, by which I was pleasantly surprised, especially by the quality of songwriting. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that “Mr. Brightside” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” were instant classics and that there was an artistic vision here that transcended the band’s pop icon status. (Remember, folks, even the Beatles were very popular AND—eventually—avant-garde artists. And no, I don’t mean to put the Killers on the same level as the immortal Liverpudlians.)
Next, I picked up Sam’s Town, the Killers’ tepidly received sophomore effort, which is as underrated an album as I know of—though it certainly has its flaws (mainly the ill-advised “Enterlude” and “Exitlude,” the cheerful moods of which clash with the somber themes on the rest of the album). Sam’s Town, too, has its gems, including “Read My Mind” and the title track. But most significantly this album demonstrated the band’s willingness to explore and evolve, musically as well as lyrically. Certain thematic patterns also began to emerge, most notably Flowers’ disillusionment with fame and his sense of mortality—which is particularly acute for a guy in his mid-twenties.
With their latest release, Day and Age, the Killers have hit their stride, both in terms of matching musical form to lyrical content (the album has a strong dance vibe, owing to the production of Stuart Price) and in terms of songwriting subtlety. There are more instant classics: “Human,” “Neon Tiger,” and “Spaceman.” The latter of these is an especially brilliant piece of songwriting, as Flowers deftly uses an alien abduction as a metaphor for the corrosive effects of fame. And the ambiguous “Neon Tiger” might refer to the band themselves as they wrestle with the temptations of their own celebrity:
Far from the evergreen of old Assam
Far from the rainfall on the trails of old Saigon
straight from the poster town of scorn and ritz
To bring you the wilder side of gold and glitz
But neon tiger there’s a lot on your mind
They promised just to pet you, but don’t you let them get you
Away, away, away
Under the heat of the southwest sun
This sounds like a self-exhortation—from and for a band that hails from the “town of scorn and ritz”—Las Vegas. Ironically, in spite of the superficiality of their hometown, this is a band that does have “a lot on [their] mind.” Will they eventually succumb to the cruel vortex of fame and the relentless demons of celebrity? Time will tell. But for now, Brandon Flowers seems resolute in his will to resist, all the while growing as a songsmith. At this rate, it would appear, this guy is going to be around for a long time.