The Killers have been one of the most popular American rock bands to emerge in the last 15 years. Can we all agree? That’s pretty fair to say, right?
Okay, good. Now forget all that.
The Las Vegas foursome’s true worshippers already know the most effective way to enjoy The Killers is to treat them not like mainstream rockers but like an indie band, understanding that much of the group’s strongest material never made it to any of their four studio LPs, let alone single status. A trove of terrific B-sides, demos, Christmas songs and covers is hidden online — a stash you’d likely never encounter unless you knew what you were looking for.
So as The Killers gear up for their fifth official album in Wonderful, Wonderful, which is set for a Sept. 22 release and already buzzing with two punchy singles in “The Man” and “Run For Cover,” check out these 10 tracks from the proverbial vault; some appeared on major albums but went unnoticed, some were recorded prior to Hot Fuss but never made the cut, and some landed on the 2007 odds-and-ends compilation Sawdust.
But we are willing to bet each of these tunes will expand your Killers worldview — let’s dive in.
10. “A Great Big Sled” (Don’t Waste Your Wishes, 2016)
Leave it to a band from the desert to pen some of the coolest Christmas songs of the last decade. December typically brings a jolly new Killers single — all of which were compiled last year into the full Christmas LP Don’t Waste Your Wishes (with proceeds benefitting Bono’s Product Red campaign). The best is still the first one, though: ‘06’s “A Great Big Sled,” a driving rock-n-bells party track with a smooth assist from Curve singer Toni Halliday.
9. “Be Still” (Battle Born, 2012)
Belt-for-belt this is the most outstanding Killers ballad to date, a late-arriving album track that’ll stop you cold if you’re not ready for it. The choral opening “Don’t break character / You’ve got a lot of heart” is an immaculate bit of songwriting; the first phrase’s easy syncopation lures you in, only to blast the second, soaring line just past your nose. Singer Brandon Flowers annihilates the vocal in this traipsing “you do you, man” affirmation — we pray the new album allows for a similar showcase.
8. “Desperate” (The Killers – Demo, 2001)
Say what you want, The Killers were still most alluring before they welcomed all that earnest heartland rock into their post-punk alliance. And the deeper you dig, the more the group sounds like a Cure or Smiths facsimile, especially on this heart-wrenching track from an early demo. Chew on that crunchy guitar lead and try to figure out where Morrissey ends and Flowers begins.
7. “Get Trashed” (“Smile Like You Mean It” single B-side, 2005)
“Get Trashed” is awesome as an ugly, grungy outlier from the depths. Flowers’ droning, whining vocal seems ripped from Billy Corgan’s lamentative playbook, and this whole B-side is driven by a rhythm that’s half made by a crude drum-roll sample — the antithesis of its polished flipside “Smile Like You Mean It.” Who knew The Killers could get so dirty?
6. “Goodnight, Travel Well” (Day & Age, 2008)
By Killers’ typically economical time standards, this nearly seven-minute album closer is an opus. No song in the catalog is longer, or swells quite like this orchestral dirge — hold on until the end and you’ll get the full range, from the brooding intro through the epic finale, which would do fine as the sonic climax to some galactic battle scene.
5. “Just Another Girl” (Direct Hits, 2013)
There was some irony to be had in the band’s greatest hits release — it was worth its price tag not for list of fan favorites from which it was cobbled, but for the new two singles tacked on: the well-circulated “Shot At The Night” and this second, explosive newbie “Just Another Girl.” The narrative is familiar, of friends urging you to just move on already from some girl — and of course, you can’t — but in the energetic construction The Killers turned out one of the most anthemic songs in their catalog.
4. “Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf” (Sawdust, 2007)
Desperate and raw, “Bourbon” may take a minute to seep in but by its final chorus you won’t be ready for it to end. Throughout (and through a crispy vocal filter) Flowers is pleading to his girl Jennifer, that he loves her endlessly and as though he’s channeling Paul Westerberg, he’s “not satisfied.” Sawdust is loaded with cool deep cuts, but this one really yanks the emotional cords.
3. “Prize Fighter” (Battle Born, 2012)
Ding, ding. If you sprang for the Battle Born deluxe edition (or subscribe to Spotify) you scored the great bonus tune “Prize Fighter,” a bounding jam that screams Springsteen in its posturing, pulsing piano and brassy accents. But as Flowers muses over a strong woman, he notes “she works 268 hours a week” — that’s… not possible.
2. “Replaceable” (The Killers – Demo, 2001)
If we could give a pre-fame Flowers one crucial piece of advice, we’d make sure this delightfully sorrowful earworm “Replaceable” made the original Hot Fuss cut. How this tune and its persistent “it doesn’t matter” passage never made an album or even the Sawdust compilation is beyond us. Another early, petulant winner.
1. “This River Is Wild” (Sam’s Town, 2006)
You’ll recall the polarization surrounding Sam’s Town’s fevered release: some vibed with the group’s attempt to morph from synth-pop studs into earnest American rock n’ rollers — and some thought this LP was one of the great disappointments of the decade. Either way, the band’s two poles find an equilibrium in “This River is Wild,” a balanced banger complete with a definitive rock skeleton, Duran Duran guitars and a punky, warbling chorus that gets more heartland-y as it goes. Few tunes encapsulate The Killers’ entire aesthetic so well.