It’s hard to credit that 13 years have passed since the Killers emerged with their electrifying blend of new wave influences, a heavy dose of David Bowie and the arena-rock muscle of U2 on their smash debut “Hot Fuss.” They were hard to resist from the very beginning, blasting off with high-energy hits like “Somebody Told Me,” “Mr. Brightside,” “Smile Like You Mean It” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Despite the band’s decidedly retro tendencies, the Killers have always infused a slick modern sheen that has kept their music fresh and relevant.
While they’ve never quite been able to equal the commercial success of “Hot Fuss,”the Killers have managed to keep plugging away with one solid album after another. Despite being dismissed by some critics as too derivative of their influences and too eager to embrace the mainstream, the Killers still sell consistently well when many of their new wave-revivalist contemporaries of the early 2000s have fallen by the wayside. Their latest album, “Wonderful Wonderful,” is their first in five years, and their continued relevance is confirmed not only in the quality of the album but by the fact that it debuts at no. 1 on the Billboard album chart, their first ever to reach that mark. The album’s success is not surprising — “Wonderful Wonderful” is the tightest and most potent collection of the Killers’ exciting retro pop/rock brew since their debut.
Lead single “The Man” is a tight dance/funk jam that somehow manages to merge elements of ‘70s disco, ‘80s new wave and ‘90s electronica into a groove that’s immediate and engaging. Flowers’ taut falsetto lands somewhere between Barry Gibb and David Byrne, a wildly eccentric performance that’s a refreshing change from the overly perfect autotuned soullessness to which pop music fans are typically subjected these days. “The Man” sounds a bit like Maroon 5 but with an edgier kick and infinitely more personality. Also excellent is the second single “Run For Cover,” a jittery rocker with a rapid-fire vocal during the verse that gives way to the type of anthemic chorus that Brandon Flowers performs so well and with such obvious heart.
The title track opens the album with a stripped-down electronic rhythm, swoops of quavery keyboard and a slow-building intensity that eventually boils over as Flowers builds plenty of drama for the cinematic climax. In keeping with the more personal nature of this album, Flowers bares his heart in “Rut,” opening up about his wife’s experiences with PTSD. The Killers typically operate in a world of storytelling and character development, so the more intimate nature of “Wonderful Wonderful” translates to a piercing emotional immediacy that feels completely genuine.
“Some Kind of Love” is a gauzy ballad, with Flowers’ gentle multi-tracked vocals floating atop a lovely bed of swaying synths. “Out of My Mind” is reminiscent of the electronic-tinged pop that saturated Top 40 airwaves in the late ‘80s. It boasts one of the album’s simpler yet most irresistible melodic hooks and seems an obvious choice as a future single. “Life to Come” once again is built mostly on synths — the guitars take a back seat on “Wonderful Wonderful” as the band relies more heavily on electronic textures. The album’s closer is the contemplative “Have All The Songs Been Written?,” which starts as a slowly simmering ballad before rising to the point where you think it’s gonna really take off but then sorta sputters unexpectedly mid-ascent. It’s an odd ending that feels unfinished, but perhaps that’s the point. Maybe it’s meant to be a harbinger of things to come.
“Wonderful Wonderful” is the Killers at their most focused and engaging. While still unabashedly mining the past for inspiration, they also look unerringly forward with an album that is immaculately crafted, fiercely performed and brimming with solid hooks and fiery grooves. If you’re a fan, you’ll like it. If you tend to view the Killers as style over substance, as many critics do, “Wonderful Wonderful” is at least worth an open-minded listen. The Killers will probably never be critical darlings, but it hardly matters. They know their niche and they operate within its flashing neon glow with all the vitality and spirit of a band just getting started.