The Killers: “Day & Age”
If Day & Age had been released as The Killers’ second album, there’s a pretty good chance that the band would be much bigger today than they already are. Listening to the album now, at the time of its November 2008 release, it’s not difficult to imagine it as the sequel to their 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, a joyfully ridiculous album that reveled in its own shallow silliness and celebrated kitsch as though it was high art. It was a pretty good album, and the new one is even better– so puffed up with ridiculous ideas, it’s hard not to be swept up in its beguiling flair for the absurd, a flashy, colorful album that proudly attests to the band’s gaudy Las Vegas roots.
Trouble is, there was an album called Sam’s Town in between those two, a U2- and Springsteen-inspired Americana survey that was every bit as over-the-top and dumb as their debut, but had one all-important difference: This time, it seemed that the band wasn’t in on the joke. The album felt for all the world like a play for credibility as serious artists, so, naturally, it collapsed under its own gaudiness into stupid self-parody. Given that context, it’s hard not to hear the new record as a bit of corrective steering, which might dampen its impact just a bit; then again, the band obviously learned a thing or two from the Sam’s Town debacle, and they’re a better band because of it. Day & Age actually finds the group broadening their sense of scope– if Sam’s Town tried to encompass all of America in its dusty, self-serious sound, this album blasts straight into outer space, quite literally on the alien abduction tale “Spaceman”– but it also finds them loosening up, or, at the least, acknowledging that they’re ultimately a very shallow band with a flare for grand style but not a lot of substance.
And that’s exactly what Day & Age is: Inspired shallowness. It’s music that tries anything and everything, no matter how strange or silly, and does so with a cheerful recognition that it’s all very ridiculous. Its substance is its style, its meaning coming not from the words, but from the bright colors and the giddy sense of kitsch. This is the album where The Killers abandon any pretense of making the next great American masterpiece– the mere fact that they ditched all the pre-release hype makes it a stronger album than Sam’s Town— and instead content themselves to make one big, bizarre party album, a seedy neon sing-along that wears its absurdity as a badge of honor. It’s an album in which steel drums and howling saxophones complement the band’s usual cheesy synthesizers, where twitching disco pulses and worldbeat chants sound perfectly logical alongside the dance-rock and– on the only song that sounds very much like Sam’s Town— a Cinderella retelling turned into a euphoric Springsteen opera, “Dustland Fairytale.”
Of course, it doesn’t take much skill to make music that’s simply preposterous, but there’s a lot more to this giant mess of an album than that– The Killers pull this off with mad style, making the album feel smart and clever, not just random. A big part of that is the songwriting, which, thankfully, is big on hooks– the gorilla-sized hooks in “Losing Touch,” “Human,” and “Spaceman” make them tailor made for arena-sized, fist-pumping sing-alongs. Brandon Flowers sings his songs with a straight face, but even he is probably aware of how silly his lyrics are, whether he’s spinning a goofy yarn about aliens abducting him or creating a modern-day fairytale, stopping to lift some lines from Hunter S. Thompson and psycho-analyzing himself more than one along the way. It’s all completely ridiculous, and it fits the album well– this is solid, smartly-made pop, catchy from start to finish and filled out with all kinds of different textures and sounds, but always melodic and hooky. It’s that sense of craft– that smart sense of the absurd, that stylish shallowness– that makes The Killers a chronically entertaining band.