Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Review: Sam's Town

The Killers (pictured) have grown beards and grown tired of their wildly succesful early sound, captured on Hot Fuss, one of the most delightful resurrections of goofy 80's indie ever put on CD. That's a good album.

Eyewear has had an earful of their second album, just out in the UK yesterday, Sam's Town, and concludes that, while Wild West barbering is one thing, such a sonic-shift in mid-flight is akin to that old cowboy trick of jumping from one pony to another, mid-stream - in this case, no Lone Rangers, they have slipped in the saddle, somewhat.

The Killers have aimed for a truly odd husbandry, breeding new pop out of dry lands, by attempting to fuse early Springsteen and recent Arcade Fire. Both acts are worthy genetic templates - The Boss is great Americana - and Arcade Fire is currently David Bowie's favourite band for a reason - but both have a slight fault that melded makes something good something bad: they're OTT. Killer's frontman Brandon Flowers does not quite have the grace of young Bruce, or the pipes, to carry the frenetic panic of Arcade Fire as they rise in spiritual ecstasy and midly-controlled euphoria and cacophony. His voice, when it reaches for the circles of heaven, sometimes thins out, like a speed-test pilot without the oxygen or the right stuff.

That being said, there are four exceptionally strong, exciting tracks here - the strongest being the weird, utterly catchy, swaggering Uncle Jonny: "when everyone else refrained / my Uncle Jonny did cocaine" .... which, as other critics have also noted, is the best Neil Young song he never sang. Also strong are tracks 1, 3 and 4, especially the title track, and Bling, which is almost transcendant ("higher and higher" being the Acme Anthem Moment surely). The "enterlude" and "exitlude" is sweet too, but so Wilson-meets-Lennon it's Mr. Kite Lite.

In some ways the problem is that gospel choirs, soaring vocals, references to glittering circuses and punch-drunk arrangements are meant to find their objective correlative in Las Vegas and the deserts that surround it, and contain the manic gamble on life that is American freedom (so long as its not online!) while also containing trace elements of absurd confidence and idiocy. The last song, Why do I keep counting, actually annuls most of the goodwill established by the first half, with its urgent protestant prostrations and uber-hymn mannerisms (not to mention nutty kettle-drums). Still, one repeated listens, it is possible to love this album.

Four Specs out of 5.
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