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The Killers – Imploding The Mirage Review

August 26, 2020 | Posted by David Hayter
The Killers
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The Killers – Imploding The Mirage Review  

The Killers are a sure thing. This generation’s imperious headliners who were thrust to the very top of the bill having arrived fully formed in 2005 with five of the biggest indie anthems imaginable. From Hot Fuss on they’ve never looked back. They’ve embraced both Americana and European camp with decidedly mixed results, but they’ve always ensured to write at least a handful of stadium shaking anthems as diverse as “Runaway” and “Human” or “The Man” and “Bones”.  The Killers thrive on their diversity of sound and hit making chops as they continue to conquer stadium and festival fields without aping the model that U2 pioneered and that so many dynamic young bands have succumbed to emulating. Despite their success, there is a sense that The Killers yearn to write at least one great American album, a worthy rival for The River, Manassas, After The Gold Rush or even Hotel California.

In this light, Imploding The Mirage feels like the natural successor to Battle Born. The Las Vegas outfit’s last attempt at a Springsteenian open road epic: a start-to-finish onslaught of distinctly American imagery and myth making without any of the cheeky diversions or disco daffiness (“Human”, “Bones”, “The Man”, “Spaceman”) that tends to subvert The Killers more straight-laced and stadium sized songwriting impulses. Brandon Flowers and company are too shrewd to slavish recreate the sounds of the ‘70s however. Imploding The Mirage overflows with coy studio trickery, post-punk/new wave reference points and gloriously camp asides, but despite this rampant risk taking there is a cavity at the heart of Flowers’ more straight-laced efforts.

The Killers seek to produce poetic, profound and inspiring anthems, but Flowers’ narratives have a nasty habit of leaving the human detail out in favor of a series of glorious gift-shop images of American mythology (“Can you cast out a demon? Can you wrangle the wind?”, “We’re cut from a stained glass mountain”). The result is both thrilling, as Flowers rips his way through the landscape and the thesaurus respectively, and frustratingly empty. The imagery is there, so to is the impulse, but where are flesh and blood human beings living out this desire to break free from the norm? As a result of this impasse, Flowers sits between Springsteen and Bono. He has the former’s American muscle and the universal sense of speaking urgently to everyone and no one in particular of the latter.

The result is a series of bulldozing crescendos that feel strangely hallow and unearned. The Boss’ great narratives were full of pent up want and exhilarating releases, but the devil was in the detail – the American dream dying when Mary got pregnant, the highway patrol man with the criminal brother, the hero forced to “do a little favor” for the wrong sort of guys in order to make ends meet. Flowers, by way of comparison, feels more like Raymond Chandler on steroids. He fires out these preposterously brilliant postcard-worthy aphorisms with reckless abandon without bothering to sketch out the heroine’s narrative. It’s a point worth laboring because when Flowers does indulge in a little detail his trailblazing crescendos hit ten times harder. “Caution” is the best example, the details may be skeletal, but he gives just enough to conjure the image of a working class woman weighed down by classism in her glitzy dead-end desert town: “Never had a diamond on the sole of her shoes, just black top white trash straight out of the news…her momma was a dancer that’s all that she knew, cause when you live in the desert, that’s just what pretty girls do”.

These little sketches of life in America’s unwatched and unwanted underclass are all it takes to make those wild squealing guitar solos, glamorous keys and calls to burn the whole town down worthwhile. More often, Flowers choses to immortalize the amorphous feeling that something has to change or that the monotony must be broken (“what kind of words would cut through the whirlwind of these days?”). There are some powerfully human sentiments to be found – particular the idea of a friend or lover standing steadfastly by his partner’s side in a time of need – but the primary focus lies on Imploding The Mirage itself. Flowers wants to shatter the subconscious arguments and social structures that keep us sat in one place. He is a man of action or, as he bizarrely phrases it: “while you were up there chewing on fat for probably cause, I let go”.

This refusal to settle makes Imploding The Mirage a powerful start-to-finish listen driven, not driven by hooks, but by the sentiment that action needs to be taken and that change has to come from within, rather than without. It’s quite surreal to listen to 42-minutes of Killers’ material without being accosted by any truly substantial choruses or obvious chart ready hits. Instead, Imploding The Mirage is the kind of record you’d love to hear played live, even if no one in attendance would actually knows the words. In this sense the album is The Killers’ own answer to Tumbleweed Connection, The Visitors or Exile On Main Street. The best hook on the entire record isn’t even an original, instead during the glorious climax of “When The Dreams Run Dry” sees Flowers slyly interpolating Kris Kristofferson silky vocal delivery from The Highwayman’s self-titled mission statement (“again and again and again”).

With the chant-along choruses in such short supply, these mini-epics rely instead on both a wall of noise and a head rush of impetus. There are some dazzling juxtapositions on display. “Fire And Bone’s” chorus appears to be built on Paul Simon like understatement and a crafty dash of acoustic guitar, but it is in fact underwritten by disco coos and wild studio pitch shifting. The Killers are craftily erecting a host of neon lights and pink flamingos atop the dust swept American landscape. “My God” is daffier still, as Weyes Blood is recruited to sing high strung and soulful vocal over a pulsating disco beat. The result sounds like something The Pet Shops boys would have dreamt up on a particularly deranged bender if it did not arrive in the middle of earnest slice of driving American rock music. “My Own Soul’s Warning” is less surreal, but nevertheless highlights just how comprehensively The Killers have harmonized their influences from either side of the Atlantic. Brandon Flowers is full of both fire and brimstone and small town folksiness as the guitars slam and the keys soar. The ensuing sound is so All-American that you could be forgiven for missing a rhythm section ripped straight from Peter Hook’s Joy Division/New Order playbook.

Without the earworm hooks of old, bubble-gum diversions or dense narrative driven verses, it’s fair to ask where the focus of Imploding The Mirage actually lies. The answer is obvious: on the shoulders on Brandon Flowers. More than any of The Killers’ previous records this is an unmistakable showcase for their frontman’s incredible lead vocal. This isn’t a solo record, the sound is too big, sculpted and diverse for that, but Flowers is the star. He is in full travelling preacher mode as he howls against the wide-open landscape one moment, before taking his listener by the hand the next for an intimate roadside conversion. This is grit as glitz and glamor. Flowers is determined to bulldoze his way through the gears – just when he appears to have peaked, he takes a deep breath and blasts on through to higher ground. He almost makes it work, but so many of the album’s tracks fall ever so slightly short of greatness. “Blowback” is a rollercoaster as Flowers seeks to save his heroine from, well, heroin and the death trap of an aspiration free town. Its compelling stuff, let down by an underpowered chorus, but redeemed by a beautiful final minute. “Will you stay when she’s breathing the blowback again?” It’s a powerful question (when she succumbs to old addictions, will you stand by her side?) sung with the regret of a man who may well have absconded in a former life. The track then dissolves into suitably theatrical pseudo-choral cries.

These genuinely touching moments make cliché-laden (and listing) efforts like “Dying Breed” more palatable. Flowers might be reaching for every live-for-the-moment/break out of the doldrums/youth in rebellion platitude in the book, but The Killers conjure such a headrush of sound that it’s hard to complain about the copy and paste nature of the songwriting. Still, if the lyrics are a touch pedestrian, then the composition is pure surrealism as The Killers sample krautrock icons Neu! and Can to create this lightening in the valley American epic.

Fittingly, for an album built on the promise to stand by you lover through thick and thin, Imploding The Mirage is brought to life by two shrewd guest features. “Lightening Fields” is a tender (if preposterous) cold canyon sweeping reflection on a runaway lover that pumps and pulsates its way into a stadium sized behemoth. It’s certainly a solid effort for three driving minutes, but it is elevated when Flowers seemingly admits defeat (“late at night I lie in bed and think about things left unsaid and all the things I’d do different if I had the chance”) only for k.d. lang’s heavenly vocal to sweep in with a buttery smoothness capable of assuaging the frontman’s soul: “don’t beat yourself up, you laid good ground/look at them all from scratch to sundown”. This little hint of conversational balladry adds something that The Killers alone were missing. This lost love story is no longer a one way conversation.

Weyes Blood’s feature is far stranger. Atop a quirky rattle and groove, Flowers reaches for a series of knowingly ridiculous metronomic highs, before Weyes Blood sweeps in atop an elastic disco groove to deliver a hallelujah moment of soul soaked bliss. Sudden, the whole track has been transported from the Las Vegas desert to a back alley Soho bar in 1985. What’s remarkable is that this seemingly absurd juxtaposition is not employed on a throwaway ditty, but a vital turning point track that sees Flowers overcome the tragedies of his past and look forward (“the weight has been lifted”).

Fittingly, Imploding The Mirage concludes with a series of standalone aphorisms that hit ungodly hard as Flowers, yet again, sets his sights on a life wasted merely getting by: “Guess it comes with age, you start to worry about the time theft, how much of it you got left”. The Killers’ key revelation is delivered in a delightfully daffy fashion. Over a slice of cod-calypso the band cry “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE” before Flowers soulfully sweeps in with an eternal truism: “but when they’re closing up the door, nobody wishing that they worked more”. Having promised to stand by their lovers’ side as death approaches, The Killers decide to close the album with its farcical title track. Flowers skips and soars through a verse full of all his most hare-brained rhymes before ploughing headlong into a chorus that sees the singer going bigger and bigger and bigger still in search of a suitably theatrical crescendo. It’s a ridiculous slice of escapist cheese, but knowingly so.

What to make of an album that is preposterously ambitious, both badly and brilliantly written, big on heart but light on detail and, what’s more, a Killers record with no killer singles? Well truth be told, as a start to finish experience, it is by far and away the band’s best work. Imploding The Mirage is a headrush of showmanship from an unflappable frontman backed by a band willing to blend the even most ill-advised of sounds into an All-American tapestry. Individual songs might be lacking in nuance and heavy on worn out tropes and gift shop clichés of Americana, but the album of as a whole speaks profoundly to escaping the norm and standing resolutely by your lover’s side to his or her dying day. The blending of European indie and dance influences into the world of Springsteen and Kristofferson is utterly thrilling, ensuring that the compositions may have the subtlety of a wrecking ball, but they are unwritten by a surprising diversity of sound. The Killers, perhaps for the first time, can stand as true album artists having produced a compelling and searing 42-minutes of music that rewards repeated start-to-finish listens and defies either shuffling or playlisting.

8.0
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Light on both songwriting nuance and hit singles, The Killers have, however implausibly, delivered their career best work in the form of Imploding The Mirage. The premise is simple: Brandon Flowers wants to break out of this dead end town and stay true to his long term lover. Through a series of preposterous hybrids of driving American rock and camp European indie disco The Killers have sculpted their own strange vision of Americana: a powerful and uplifting experience that is unlikely to trouble the charts. Think Tumbleweed Connection or Exile On Main Street: a start-to-finish experience that will remain a favorite of both fans and critics.
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The Killers, David Hayter