Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Killers: Day & Age

A friend of mine once said that if you want to fake your way through the discussion of an album you haven't heard, all you have to say is that the first half of the album was good but after track six, it just went downhill. While I can't vouch for the effectiveness of this strategy, I can say that those words came to mind upon listening to the Killer's third release, Day & Age.

Last year when Sawdust came out, I remember saying that "Tranquilize" sounded like the place somewhere in between Hot Fuss and Sam's Town, all the band's nostalgia and love for the west, dipped in 80's synth. Day & Age occupies that space exactly.

"Losing Touch" gets it going, featuring synth as well as some other unexpected instrumentation, like saxophone, making its first and definitely not last appearance. It's 80's sax. You know exactly what I mean, the kind that makes you think of blazers with the sleeves rolled up.

Next up is "Human," the much-debated single, tinged with brooding synth and questionable lyrics. On it's own, posing the question "are we human, or are we dancer" seems pretty forced, a weak attempt at depth, but within the context of the album, it works. Between the album artwork and that synthed-out desperado vibe, Day & Age is like someone drove out to the desert at sunset, parked the car and started having a minor emotional/mental/spirtiual crisis.

Even though Flowers hasn't donned eyeliner in a while, there's a drama to the Killers that means you just have to roll with it and take the music for what it is and from whom it's coming. The "dancer" line has gotten so much attention, no one has acknowledged the preceding line which says "and I'm on my knees looking for the answer." It's the most earnest and most relatable line of the album. In any case, "Human" begs multiple successive plays.

That said, "Spaceman" tops it. Alien abduction never sounded so cool. You just want to sing along as Flowers does some of his best uncertain warbling and straining. There are definitely shades of "Read My Mind" in there amid the blips. This is undoubtedly the best song on the album.

After that powerful trio comes "Joy Ride," an energetic, galloping south-of-the-border type tune followed up by "A Dustland Fairlytale." That's the line where the album starts losing steam. The latter tells a good story, points for the line "he looked just you'd want him to, some kind of slick chrome American prince," but ultimately "Joy Ride" is the last real kicker.

This is not to say that the listener should just kill the album after the fifth track, but the shift in quality is most striking because the best songs came one right after another instead of spread out.

While "Human" and "Spaceman" live up and even surpassed their hype, "Neon Tiger" falls short. It's fairly bland, forgettable, and unimpressive. Album-closer "Goodnight, Travel Well" is just too dark and foreboding, detracting from the record's overall stylistic cohesiveness. Sounds like someone was having a bad day. Plus, it's nearly 7 minutes long. Day & Age probably could have done without it.

Lately, it's cool to hate on the Killers, so I'll say this: there's good and mediocre on this album, tracks that buzz and bleep in 80's infused glory and tracks that simply underwhelm. Potentially the most important fact though, is that those really great tracks are solid enough to make anyone commit to the group and tell the snobs to go screw themselves. If you like a band, own up to it. They're yours. Deal with it.

Even if feathers have no place on epaulets.

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