The Killers’ “Sam’s Town” really is one of the best albums in the past twenty years.
And it’s okay to admit it.
May, 2006: A twenty-five year old — twenty-five! I’m nearly twenty-five! What am I doing with my life?! — Brandon Flowers tells powerhouse European music press outlet NME that his band The Killers is recording “one of the best albums in the past twenty years.” At the time, the band, hot of the massive success of their smash hit-machine debut “Hot Fuss,” was in the studio with producing legends Flood and Alan Moulder, crafting their eagerly anticipated sophomore effort.
The second those words left Flowers’ lips, “Sam’s Town” was damned from the start. By setting such a high bar in such a cocky manner, Flowers essentially dared the press to flame the record from the outset, no matter how well it actually turned out.
And flame it they did. Slant mocked Flowers’ confidence and bravado, writing that “the newly bearded band will only incite the scorn of critics even more,” and slapping “Sam’s Town” with a three-star review. Pitchfork gave it a debilitating 5.9 and opined that The Killers “whiff on the message, too often resorting to Cliff-Note Americana like highways and rivers or cartoonish character studies…”
I guess highways and rivers don’t count as authentic Americana. Should someone tell Ansel Adams and Mark Twain?
Perhaps most idiotically, many of “Sam’s Town’s” foes lampooned the record for its heavy Bruce Springsteen influence. The Boss is — for those who don’t know (and apparently dozens of professional music critics didn’t) — one of the most successful recording artists of all time, and bands that list him as a chief influence, from The Gaslight Anthem to The Hold Steady to Arcade Fire, tend to do exceptionally well.
But never let strong influences get in the way of a preferred narrative, I suppose. Anyway…
Despite the caustic press, “Sam’s Town” managed to spawn a number of radio hits, including the anthemic, blistering “When You Were Young” and the warm, nostalgic “Read My Mind,” the latter of which Flowers went on to call the “best song [The Killers have] ever written” (it’s not; that honor, even after all these years, still belongs to “Mr. Brightside,” and you can take it up with my angsty 7th grade self if you got beef). It also produced fan favorites and concert singalong classics like “Sam’s Town,” “Bling (Confessions of a King),” “Bones” and “For Reasons Unknown,” and went platinum.
So let’s fast forward ten years. Between 2006 and 2016, The Killers put out the poppy, pure, glamorous “Day and Age,” a saxophone-and-synth-laden art-pop glistener that invites a head scratch or two in between gyrations, and the top-heavy, naval-gazing “Battle Born.” Both are phenomenal records for wildly different reasons — but they’re not “Sam’s Town.” They lack that record’s “thrillingly rusty” grandiosity, its “stupid-loud…unapologetically bombastic” energy.
And I’m (we’re? Are you on board yet? Have you recalled your hopeless romantic American youth? Your memories of pondering the lyrical non-sequitur “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus?”) not the only one who’s championed the idea that “Sam’s Town” got shortchanged because some snarky reporters wanted to knock Flowers and Co. back into the stratosphere. In a piece that’s since been deleted — but that you can see referenced here — Rolling Stone fans voted “Sam’s Town” the most underrated record of the aughts. Here’s a fair-enough six year anniversary review from MTV. And here’s NME taking some time off from shoving Arctic Monkeys down our throats to call the record an “underappreciated album of ambitious storytelling.”
So, for those who don’t remember what it’s like to be twenty-five, please — do your best to recall what you were up to when you were that age. Whatever it was, it probably didn’t involved writing platinum records and writing generation-defining hits. And you know what? That’s okay. The fact that Brandon Flowers happens to be a bit more braggadocious than us regular folk should be at least a little forgivable, because he was literally writing, recording and selling massive records at twenty-five.
And so ten years later, when asked asked about the infamous “twenty years” proclamation, Flowers, older and wiser, carefully said, “I put my foot in my mouth everyday [but]…I don’t regret saying that.”
Good. Don’t, and let’s get more of it, please. Because that shit defined a generation, even if critics really, really didn’t want it to.