The Killers are back, though it sounds like they never really left. After six years of frequent touring, the Las Vegas-based rock 'n roll quartet decided to take a breather in early 2010. Frontman Brandon Flowers, bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci all pursued respective side projects, and the Killers let off creative steam, collected themselves, and prepared to take on LP number four.
"Battle Born" -- named for the band's Las Vegas studio -- is a record that's got a good deal in common with 2008's "Day & Age." It's a guitar-oriented rocker, with the influence of U2 creeping up on the Killers' ceaseless Springsteen muse. The more EDM and pop dominate the Billboard charts, the more it seems to stoke Flowers' fire of writing the Great American Rock Song; perhaps the frontman is among the last of a dying breed, but he's not going down without a fight. Regrettably, there isn't a jam on the stadium size of "When You Were Young" or "Human" this time around, though lead single "Runaways" comes close.
Though electronic textures spring up on "Battle Born," the Killers' fourth effort is really a throwback rock album at heart, one that should rival Muse's "The 2nd Law" and Green Day's "Uno!" as the genre's grandest statements this fall. On the heels of 2008's "Day & Age," "Battle Born" hones the Killers' trademark sound and, even if it's not quite ready, sounds absolutely willing to take its genre on its shoulders.
Which songs on the Killers' latest opus are worth repeated listens? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of "Battle Born."
1. Flesh and Bone - On the propulsive opening track, Brandon Flowers likens himself to a raging bull, the fires of hell, and "a dark horse running in a fantasy." That's the Killers' lyrical style for sure, and it's a fitting intro to a record full of expectedly lofty aspirations.
Hipster cynics usually have an easy time poking holes in all the bombast and freewheeling earnestness of a Killers record, but there's something about the strength of the group's singles that makes even the most jaded rock fans want to roll down the windows and let the wind... well, you know the rest. "Runaways" is stadium-ready heartland rock in the vein of "When You Were Young," and is easily the new album's biggest triumph.
3. The Way It Was - "Runaways" certainly ups the ante at track two, and its follower keeps matters moving smoothly. Rather than try to match its predecessor's overflowing energy, "The Way It Was" flashes the Killers' more graceful side, one that we've seen before on majestic cuts like "Read My Mind."
4. Here With Me - Flowers is the sort of frontman who's always in danger of getting a bit too sentimental. This aspiring anthem gets tripped up when lines like "I don't want your picture on my cellphone/ I want you here with me" fall far short of the mark set by the massive horns-and-strings studio treatment.
5. A Matter of Time - You've bussed enough tables to take out your girlfriend and don't have a care and the world... but there's impending doom around the corner! That's the lyrical mood set on "A Matter of Time," the most direly urgent song on "Battle Born" and another winner.
6. Deadlines and Commitments - The Killers' typical guitar onslaught is pushed to the sidelines in favor of Flowers showing off the higher ranges of his voice. "Deadlines and Commitments" isn't as immediate as its followers, but it's worth a second listen.
7. Miss Atomic Bomb - The title "Miss Atomic Bomb" came from a tip from none other than Sir Elton John, which served as a launching pad for Flowers' songwriting. Aside from the elbow-rubbing, though, this unabashed rocker's too similar to too many of its counterparts to be considered a "Battle Born" highlight.
8. The Rising Tide - With its glitchy electronic buildup, the opening thirty seconds of "The Rising Tide" could pass for "Hot Fuss"-era Killers. Once it hits its stride, though, the track reveals itself to be a slick, streamlined rocker that's rooted in 80s arena riffage.
9. Heart of a Girl - This is one of "Battle Born's" few tracks where Flowers and company aren't swinging for the fences, and it's a welcome change of pace. With a little extra room for his vocals, Flowers' rock 'n roll pretty boy one-liners ("Baby, I've got all night to listen to the heart of a girl") sound all the sweeter.
10. From Here On Out - On "Battle Born's" shortest track (clocking in at only two-and-a-half minutes), the Killers find their groove early and stick to it. There's a Tom Petty feel to this laid-back album cut, which ditches the synthesizer and melodrama for a quick-hitting groove.
11. Be Still - "Don't break character; you've got so much heart," pleads Flowers in this sweeping stab at rock prophet territory. It's a good showcase for the frontman's Bono posturing and a sound of his ambitions all over "Battle Born."
12. Battle Born - Rather than descend back towards earth on the album's final song, the Killers come out guns blazing on "Battle Born's" finale. In the end, the title track is a a microcosm of its namesake album: a whole lot of ambition ( Queen-inspired vocal effects! Spacey, M83-like outro!), occasional glory, but with the nagging feeling that many, many rock bands (The Killers included) have tried these ideas before.