Better Off Dead

The Killers' ghastly, ghostly Town is haunted by Steve Perry and wanton frat dudeness

There's a host of guitars that sound like Nissan Sentra engines here, and a desperately confused drummer caught between John Bonham bonzai bluster and Meg White's dumbstruck austerity. But the thing we're gonna focus on with regards to the record unfortunately not called Sam's Ass Cabin is frontman Brandon Flowers: his voice, his lyrics, and even his hairdo if it comes down to that. Words rhymed on this album: "higher," "wire," "fire," and "higher"; "burn" and "turn" (that's what the world does, see); "refrained," "cocaine," "brain," and (duh) "pain." Here's a line of seventh-grade poetry: "The thunder speaks for the sky/And on the cold wet dirt I cry." Proposed next line: "The tears come out of my eye/In my eye there's a sty/Why?"

"It was the self-evident phoniness in [his] voice—the oleaginous self-regard, the gooey smear of words, the horrible enunciation." That's Greil Marcus. He's actually talking about Steve Perry and Journey (the biggest-selling one of thesebands ever), but it nails Flowers. Dude grows up in one of the most sociologically extreme places in the world (Vegas, baby), and the weak pathos he brings to these songs makes the guy in Fall Out Boy sound like Robert Johnson.

"All These Things That I've Done," off the Killers' 2004 debut Hot Fuss, is a fine tune, a pageant of sweet riffs and gospel backup that's the closest these dudes have come to that Boss/Stones/U2 mix they're clearly going for. But listening to Sam's Town makes that jammer feel like a happy accident. Songs like "Bones"—with its flourishes of synths, horns, and yes, even that good ol' choir (dance with them that brung ya, I guess)—bumble around like a bird that flies into your apartment and starts breaking things. Granted, there's a heart beating somewhere in this album ("We're gonna make it out!" the chode sings on "Bling [Confessions of a King]"*), but it's about as poignant as a couple of frat dudes doing 1 a.m. karaoke: " 'Cause shtramps like bus/Shbaby bwe were slborn to wun!"

Where the chumps have no name
photo: Anton Corbijn
Where the chumps have no name

According to the band, this is a concept record, but the sincerity and intelligence behind that assertion can be gleaned in the song-as-intervention "Uncle Jonny": "Tell us what's going on/Feels like everything's wrong. . . If the future is real/Jonny, you've got to heal." Man, the Acid Queen must be turning in her grave. A rock song about a guy named Jonny? Uncle Jonny? Seriously? Homies, just sing about MySpace and that boyfriend that looks like your girlfriend. At least then we'll believe you.

Also, your hairdo sucks.

*Oh for shit's sake


The Killers play the Theater at Madison Square Garden October 24 and 25, thegarden.com.

 
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