The Killers’ highly anticipated fourth album, named after the words emblazoned on the Nevada State flag, Battle Born releases this Tuesday, September 18 and is already creating quite the buzz online. The LP is their first record since 2008′s Day & Age, an album that has sold over 3 million copies worldwide. The band embarked on a highly successful worldwide tour following the release of the album, ending off in 2010 and telling fans they’d be going on a hiatus. Each member went onto their own solo projects with the most attention turning to lead vocalist, Brandon Flowers and the release of Flamingo in September of 2010.
Flowers stated that Day & Age was the band’s “most playful record” and it now begs the question for several people, what does the new album have in store for fans, lovingly known as “the victims”?
The Las Vegas band has reiterated in several interviews that it would feature a lot of guitar. ”Runaways”, their first single off the record, clearly showcases that Killer-flavor. The album released through Island Records, is nothing short of musical mastery, full of character and vibrant gusto. It has the fingerprint of producers Steve Lillywhite, Bjork collaborator, Damian Taylor, Brendan O’Brien, Daniel Lanois, dance-music maven Stuart Price, and mixed by Alan Moulder, who was a pivotal voice working on the band’s first two albums.
The album focuses greatly on optimism through an emotional storyline that unifies various themes of memory and loss, life and love, perseverance and faith; and how they all intertwine. The tone is carefully crafted with the opening tune, “Flesh & Bone” which finds The Killers continuing their pop trend in an anthem style, emitting a fresh and on-your-toes approach. Metaphorically, it serves as a great build up to the fundamentals of man. ”Runaways” is a brisk song that builds up momentum in a galloping-horse sort of fashion through the beat of the drums. It’s a big song and creates a great rush with the listener, focusing on the realities of love and one’s self–losing the mutual spark in a relationship, and coming to terms with one’s own nature while hoping to rebuild their flawed romance.
The next two tracks seem to come as a package and bear great retrospection. “The Way It Was” comes off as an unrequited love song on some level where the protagonist wonders where his relationship went wrong and pleads if things could return to what they once were. It’s tender and real with a vulnerable tone highlighted by Flowers’ vocals ever so euphoniously. The melodies are gentle and reminiscent of a late 80′s song, transferring the listener to moments of nightfall. “Here with Me” feels almost like a sequel to the album’s third track, reflecting on a kind of loss the protagonist has suffered in his relationship, while thinking back and showing desperation. In some ways, it’s a dreamy and romantic power ballad showcasing great vulnerable depth from Flowers’ vocal range and definitely tugs at the heartstrings. It is a tune that can be relatable for those helplessly in love and hung up at an emotional crossroad and wondering where to go next.
“Matter of Time” is a carefully paced tune, interjected with heavy beats and fickle guitar riffs that reflect the uncertainties of a relationship–one that sounds an awful lot like a marriage on eggshells with lyrics like belonging in “it” forever, and keeping that promise “come hell or high water”. We’re all aware that every relationship goes through their ups and downs but from the sounds of this one, it’s just a matter of time for everything to fall apart as character has evolved and eventually shown true colors to a vulnerable and insecure protagonist. “Deadlines and Commitments” is a soft song and very reminiscent of an 80′s tune, complete with sweeping synthesizers full of optimism at its finest. Flowers has a different tone in this song but steps up enough amidst nice low key bass lines. It’s a song about acceptance and realization that when it comes to love, as hard as it is, and how much doubt creeps in, there is never a point when one would be turned away; and chances should be taken without overanalyzing. Personally I find the track a lot like something off of Flowers’ solo record, Flamingo as it covers the particular tones and themed depth he covered in tracks, particularly “Only The Young”.
“Miss Atomic Bomb” is a remarkable track about those pesky lingering loves we all have–well, most of us. It starts off quiet but showcases a rather reflective Flowers with strong vocals amidst a musical crescendo that builds up with romantic guitar riffs. Fans will get an awesome surprise when they hear the track as the riff from “Mr Brightside” turns up at one point in the song. Understood that it’s a prequel, the entry of the past melody suggests brighter days and reflects on the events off the Hot Fuss album. Giving her the name, Miss Atomic Bomb, it’s apparent through his pleas and memories that she’s left quite an impact on our young hero. With the new track, he’s chronicling more of that chapter as he narrates he was in fact “the boy with the eager eyes”, known as Mr. Brightside himself, and reflects on the moments the two shared. It’s a song that builds up like a race. In some ways he has moved on but can’t stop thinking about her, cutting to the present and claiming that the “dust cloud has settled” and now has clear eyes about the situation. He reiterates several times that Miss Atomic Bomb would miss him, but it sounds more like he misses her. Evidently throughout the track he thinks about her more so through his vulnerabilities and conflicts that arise in his current relationships.
After reflecting on Miss Atomic Bomb, the protagonist goes back to reality and his current relationship in “The Rising Tide“, and in some form feels like he’s picking up from “A Matter of Time”. Devoting the first thirty seconds to escalating synthesizers, the song dances through the metaphor of a relationship through rose-colored glasses; ”life and the dream collide”, proving there is a great mystery between the two as his love shows one face to outsiders, and another to him. At one point listeners might sense a religious undertone but it’s more a less a metaphor for a state of denial. Their life is a facade, while the dream is what is expected of the relationship’s norm. Until she’s able to “swallow down” her pride, she won’t escape their relationship’s transformation and what is arising between them. It’s a bouncy track with 80′s-esque synths and keys, guitar chimes, and bass pumps. It’s got a definite beat you can dance to and paves the way for a Killers-pop tune.
“Heart of a Girl” is a soft gentle ballad that some may feel fast forwards to the future where the protagonist has risen from his conflicts and is a million miles away no longer in a relationship. A song full of introspection, it finds that time has been “dripping down the clock” and that an “angel in a robe” appears one night, rattling his very foundations. Listeners will come to believe he has a daughter and the two have a great heart-to-heart, as his daughter is portraying her father’s characteristics, wanting to find personal purpose and coming to him as she needs a shoulder to lean on. Flowers exhibits effortless flowing vocals and touches lightly on religious tones incorporated in the track; “There is a hand guiding the river/The river to wide open sea”, proving that optimism is key and there is no actual end to life. There is a greater picture out there and what we see now shouldn’t deter us from our faith, no matter how difficult the path may be.
“From Here On Out” sounds like an uptempo country rock number but maintains that Killers-style. It’s a rather short song with themes of independence and personal change from the battles of love, and all that encompassed his relationship. It mainly plays as a revelation piece. ”Be Still” is a personal favorite and is most definitely one of the most heartfelt tracks from the album. There is great depth and soul found within every artful word of this song which Flowers offers as encouragement to the listener singing how it’s important after any conflict to remember that whatever obstacles you are faced with, you must trust yourself and your faith to believe that these things were not your fault. It’s vital to be yourself and never change “character” for anyone. In some form it borders a this-too-shall-pass sort of attitude in the form of a soft-spoken lullaby.
The last track on the album sums up the strength of character built from every challenge endured. “Battle Born” is an edgy rock tune that sounds perfectly like a conclusion to the Battle Born tale and is quite possibly the strongest track on the record. There’s a great sense of rebirth and control that’s arisen in the protagonist, realizing that even though the seasons may pass, there’s a sense echoing that your dream doesn’t ever die. It’s vital to experience obstacles and work through trials and tribulations, as if, “You never live/You never learn/You never shine/If you never burn.”
The album’s overall theme is apparent in the cover art as well, showing off a pure wanderlust against an empty desert backdrop in the thick of storm clouds, as a car drives through the heavy weather towards a clearing. An interesting image is the dark horse running straight into the oncoming car, depicting a possible ‘merger of the past and the present’ coming together as life finds its own path. In literature dark horses are reflective of perseverance through hardship, and are often associated with power, freedom and carefree living. However with the album’s theme, could this be a relevant answer? Horses are usually untamed with little to no control on their movement, symbolizing freedom along with that wild and reckless youth the band sings about in their records. On the other hand, the car is a symbol of man’s pride and joy, much as is the horse but with a difference–that being, while a horse is a natural creation of Nature, a car is manufactured by human hands and comes with their own set of problems. It would appear that Flowers is alluding to the fact that people can change control of one’s own life by steering to the desired path in life. He sings in the album-titled track, “It’s gonna take more than a hand/To turn this thing around,” proving that it’s essential to pick yourself up and steer in the direction you know you need to go, and eventually move forward.
The beauty of The Killers is that they’re able to tell real life stories through their music in poetic metaphors, parallelisms and fancy beats while bordering Americana stylings in keyboard driven pop-rock. Each album has progressed into what the quartet wants to narrate and in this case, the story of a man who discovers his worth through the relationships he’s been in and how they’ve formed his outlook. The protagonist is a solid character but has an inkling of childhood innocence made up of freedom and independence, and though at times his traits become him, he is a bit of a “runaway” and not able to sit still with his restless heart. Our lives are affected by obstacles we face, a lot like ripples in a pond and one of the major ripple effects he faced was the infamous relationship with Miss Atomic Bomb that catapulted him into a dark emotional abyss. The protagonist seems so hurt from all of it but eventually with clear eyes, comes out stronger from the struggles he faced. In some ways, he was born from battle and is proud to bear the scars from yesterday.
To me, music is one of those things that soothes every thought, emotion and doubt we have with ourselves. In every way it has the power to heal and finds that perfect tuneful path through an articulated arrangement. One thing evident about The Killers and the music they’ve put out since 2004′s Hot Fuss, is that they have always had such courage to strip themselves down and expose every emotion they’ve ever felt. If this album had to be compared to any other album by The Killers, my best bet would be to believe it fits well into Sam’s Town that highlight soundscape layers, accompanied by a grand synthesized rock. Battle Born is a well formed, gutsy album, provoking thought with much profundity. There is something definitely for everyone on this album and the beauty of their “poetry” is that it’s always open to your own interpretation as beauty lies in the ears of the listener. Deep, well-thought out music doesn’t come from the surface–it’s soul deep; full of open heart and mind that allows for poetry, melody, and a raw passion to permeate. This is a definitive record from The Killers and they have clearly marked their fingerprint with Battle Born.
With the anticipation of this long awaited release, fans will be in for a treat as the deluxe edition of Battle Born also includes two new bonus tracks, titled “Carry Me Home” and “Prize Fighter”, plus a remix of the album’s opening track “Flesh And Bone”. Battle Born releases September 18 in record stores and digital music retailers. “The Victims” can pre-order special packages exclusively from The Killers’ website.