Sunday, May 27, 2007

Album Review: The Killers Sam's Town

At the risk of a fairly unqualified veering into Lucas Hendrickson territory, this is one of the first album's I've cared about in a long time, at least enough to consider writing a review.

I don't listen to the radio much, if at all. I stopped watching MTV when they stopped being a music video channel, I dumped VH1 about the same time. I mostly listen to BBC or Fox, occasionally MSNBC on XM. Should I venture into FM radio territory, we finally have a JACK-FM clone in the Longview/Tyler area and I listen to that, i.e., mostly retro. I know what I like, I don't venture out too much. I like most everything except gangsta rap and hip-hop, I find them to be overly repetitive, profane or repetitively profane in the main.

So basically, I missed The Killers' first CD, which I will now have to go buy. My music listening mainly happens in the background of TV shows, so when I heard a song in the background of a party scene in the ER episode "Photographs & Memories" a couple of months ago, I had to run over to Heard On TV, a wonderful Web 2.0 database of music heard on TV shows. There I found the infectious tune was "Read My Mind" by The Killers.

Now, I had seen The Killers once when I mistakenly watched a portion of the MTV Video Music Awards, an experience that made me thankful for the more innocent (and musically-superior, IMO) MTV of my youth. I was a bit underwhelmed. I knew vaguely that they had a new album out back then, but at that time I didn't think about zipping over to their MySpace page or their artist page at Island and listening to any of their stuff. They seemed to me to be one in a series of the "The" bands: The Fray, The Shins, The Strokes, The Vines, etc. In other words, another derivative band at whose feet the declining fortunes of the music industry is more properly lain, rather than downloaders. And since I buy my CDs and rip them myself for listening, I don't like spending $15 for nothing, or for one good song.

(Note: I have since bought CDs by The Fray and almost the whole catalog of The Shins, and they're great. Still haven't gone there for The Strokes or The Vines, if you have and you enjoy them, good for you.)

"Read My Mind" stuck in my head, though, and I figured that Hastings had to have a used CD available for Sam's Town, and I was right. In addition to "Read My Mind", the best single on the album, I found another 13 little sonic jewels in the appropriately-named jewel case.

Knowing nothing about The Killers, I didn't know that lead singer Brandon Flowers had said that Sam's Town was going to be "one of the best albums of the last 20 years", and listening to it without much in the way of expectations or foreknowledge of his statement, I actually came to the same conclusion myself. It's the first really standout album I've heard since The Joshua Tree dropped in 1986 that I know I'll still be listening to in 20 years. I can understand why this level of arrogance might have peeved the reviewer at Rolling Stone, who panned the daylights out of the disc. It still went Platnium in the US and UK, so apparently critical disdain isn't all it's cracked up to be these days.

This is a derivative album of sorts, but derivative of things that I really like, being a child of the 1980s music scene. Their first album was apparently a well-received New Wave-esque effort, and I still think there's a lot of good stuff to mine in the 1980s. The Killers were declared by one source to be "the best British band to come from the United States", and there's a lot of British influences in the album, little hints of "Madworld" by Tears for Fears in "Bling (Confessions of a King)", a lot of U2-esque vocals and minimalist guitar work on "Read My Mind", synth tracks in the background that recall Depeche Mode and Erasure. There's an obvious Springsteen influence that somehow had penetrated my perception of the album before I'd heard it, but it's there and it really sounds good. There is some Cars-esque feel to "For Reasons Unknown", and for someone who prefers most of what the 80s produced to nearly anything recorded since, that's a good thing.

The Wife noted the limitations of Brandon Flowers voice, and the limitations are on display. He can't do what Bono does, he occasionally sounds like Bruce Springsteen trying to do Bono, which isn't always good. To use the American Idol term, he sounds a little "pitchy" in spots. But the instrumentations are spectacular, and the lyrics are engaging and often clever. She listens to less music than I do, I know what she likes and I bird-dog new material for her. She loves this one as much as I do.

Highly recommended.

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