“Imploding the Mirage:” The Killers are just a straight-up different band now.
And it works.
It was a forgone conclusion that, for most of my life, I would be a diehard fan of The Killers. “Hot Fuss” — their paranoid synth rock guy-liner’d debut — was released in 2004, just as I was getting old enough to start exploring alternative music on my own, and the circuit-breaker synths and bombast of “Somebody Told Me” utterly blew my curious thrill-seeking suburban pre-teen mind. To this day, I remember when and where I was when I first heard the song. It was electrifying.
But, of course, that’s not the song that catapulted The Killers to superstardom. No, that honor, as you’re likely well aware, belongs to “Mr. Brightside,” which, contrary to popular collective memory, was initially released to relatively muted fanfare — or, at least, relatively muted compared to legacy it has now. In the sixteen years since its release, “Mr. Brightside” has cemented itself as maybe the defining Millennial generation anthem — our “Born to Run,” our “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
There’s an argument to be made, however, that ever since “Hot Fuss,” The Killers have been on a consistent downward trajectory. 2006’s sophomore effort “Sams’s Town” was famously preceded by chest-thumping grandeur and feuds with contemporaries, and though it spawned the hits “When You Were Young” and “Read My Mind,” critics were unkind. I fundamentally disagreed, but that’s fine. “Day & Age” was stabilizing, but has largely faded from the public’s memory aside, and follow up “Battle Born” has, to the dismay of diehards like myself, been criticized in retrospect even by Brandon Flowers himself.
After “Battle Born?” A five year gap that, as it comes into focus, led to the total reinvention of The Killers as an artistic project. Indeed, now with a fifth and sixth studio record under their belt, The Killers of 2020 aren’t just an evolved or maturer version of the The Killers of the aughts.
They’re an entirely different band.
In 2017, they returned with “Wonderful Wonderful,” a mixed-but-overall-entertaining collection that didn’t represent a return to form so much as it signaled a period of transition. And understandably so — bassist Mark Stoermer and lead guitar player Dave Keuning withdrew from the tour promoting the record, and Keuning essentially left the band all together (he also released a lovably glammy solo record that’s worth your time, and will apparently be reuniting with the band soon.).
In a positive review of “Wonderful Wonderful,” I wrote that The Killers 2017 comeback record reached “unmatched heights of towering slickness. It glistens to the point of nearly exploding.”
By contrast, “Imploding the Mirage” — released today after COVID-19 delays — just straight-up explodes, and it explodes over and over. Indeed, as NME noted in a glowing review, “there are literally explosions– at points they’ve clearly battle-armed Ronnie’s drum kit with tomahawks instead of tom-toms.”
Certain fans have been wistfully clamoring for a return to “Hot Fuss” form for over a decade now, and “Imploding the Mirage,” well, implodes that mirage. Three years ago, I wrote that “listeners [who] come to [Wonderful Wonderful] hoping to discover ‘Mr. Brightside’ 2.0…[are] bound to come up empty.” “Imploding the Mirage” puts ten exclamation points on that, and in doing so, it truly breaks brand new ground for the band.
Some will righteously chafe at this comparison, but “Imploding the Mirage” reminds me in many ways of The National’s 2019 release “I Am Easy To Find.” They share few sonic similarities, of course, but production-wise both are experimental, sputtering, colorful, artistically collaborative works that sound absolutely nothing like their respective makers’ early releases. Yes, the themes of Flower’s lyrics here rhyme with those on “Sam’s Town” and “Battle Born,” and the music itself is still clearly descendant of U2, Springsteen, The Cure, and David Bowie. So it’s not a completely different record. But same way that nothing on “I Am Easy to Find” could’ve ever belonged on The National’s alt-country twinged early releases, nothing on “Imploding the Mirage” could’ve ever lived on“Hot Fuss” or “Sam’s Town.” Sure, you can draw a very squiggly line on The Killers’ family tree down from “When You Were Young” or “This River is Wild” to “Dying Breed,” but the truth is that, five records later, “Imploding the Mirage” makes it clear that The Killers are never, ever going back.
And as a lifelong fan, I can say with confidence that that’s a good thing. “Wonderful Wonderful” was a comeback record, yes, but in retrospect, it looks more a warm-up for the real thing — like the band trying to figure out what direction to go in before fully committing to it.
“Imploding the Mirage” is full committal if I’ve ever hear it, and they want you to know it. Album opener “My Own Soul’s Warning” is huge and charging, like The War on Drugs on arena rock steroids. “Dying Breed” and “Caution” keep up maxed-out energy, and “Running Toward A Place” — likely my favorite song on the record, though time will tell — has a slinky Dire Straights quality to it. Even the record’s hymnal “My God,” featuring Weyes Blood, is hard-hitting and relentless and completely overblown. The descending final chorus of “When The Dreams Run Dry” recalls the determined melodramatic emotion of My Chemical Romance’s “The Black Parade,” which is…insane? It’s insane. It’s then followed by, of all things, a synth-pop country song that closes out the record.
Listening to “Imploding the Mirage” is like getting shot out of a nuclear-powered cannon stuffed with fireworks and glitter. Some of this evolution and experimentation is deliberate; some, I’m sure, is an incidental result of the band maturing and growing older. But either way, it’s transformative. The Killers are so committed to the bit that it’s impossible not to enjoy this spastic cosmic ride; it beats you into the ground with thundering drums and searing synth solos and it’s a shockingly good record, despite being lightyears away from “Hot Fuss” and “Sam’s Town.”
The Killers are just a straight-up different band now, and for the first time in nearly a decade, I truly feel like I have no idea where they’re headed.
And that, to me, is really exciting.