The Killers Shed All Coolness and Take Their Place as Adult-Contemporary Saviours on 'Imploding the Mirage'
Published Aug 20, 2020It's been nearly 20 years since a few dozen anthromorphic piles of cocaine in leather jackets ushered in the last truly hyped wave of rock music, bringing with them a legion of leather-clad New Yorkers whose main selling point was their hyper-cool aloofness. But the ravages of age come for everyone, and try as they might, the Strokes and their Meet Me in the Bathroom cohorts can't maintain that detached coolness now that they're a bunch of sober yuppie parents.
On the other hand, some bands of the era are thriving with middle age. For reasons unknown, the Killers were always a little more human than dancer when they were young, offering a brighter side to the glamorous indie rock'n'roll peddled by their peers. In fact, on their sixth studio album, Imploding the Mirage, the Killers prove that their awkward phase is long behind them.
The band — which at this point in time is mostly singer Brandon Flowers and drummer/My Name Is Earl lookalike Ronnie Vannucci, with Mark Stoermer and Dave Kuening currently on a break — have always danced with two extremes, offering dejected new wave on Hot Fuss before consuming themselves with Americana on every release since. That constant struggle between cool and corny, irony and earnestness, has resulted in some amazing material, but it's also meant constant middling reviews and unspoken status as a singles-only band. With Imploding the Mirage, however, the corny side of the Killers has won out once and for all, and we're all the better for it.
Imploding the Mirage crystallizes the Killers's vision and establishes them as untouchable forces in the oft-forgotten subgenre of adult contemporary rock. It helps that vintage sound explorer Jonathan Rado is on board to produce alongside alterna-pop mainstay Shawn Everett. Their joint work, along with a guest list that includes Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, k.d. lang, Weyes Blood, the War on Drugs's Adam Granduciel, Blake Mills and Lucius — plus coffee shop-esque art from legendary American painter Thomas Blackshear (who has made paintings for Hallmark Cards and the American Postal Service) — make it clear that this is an album meant for testing out the stereo in a newly leased car or a sound system bought on credit.
Aesthetically aspirational, the album contains the slickness and utopian idealism of late-'80s CD club rock. Half the time, you can close your eyes and picture Peter Gabriel bassist Tony Levin jamming along with his Chapman Stick, rocking a vest and a dangly earring. Even the title Imploding the Mirage is the sort of meaningless po-mo Bono-ism expertly employed by Gen X-ers who somehow never got into grunge. It's almost like a rock version of vaporwave, triggering some sort of Windows 95 reflex with each harmonica and goofy synth pad. But therein lies it's charm, because the second-wave coffee adult alternative vibes are not meant ironically.
Imploding the Mirage is an album brimming with hope, almost comically so in the face of so much disaster. Still, where Flowers's lyrics have often overpowered with their schmaltz, he completely owns them here as he sings about, as always, America, (the Mormon version of) God, death, and more America. Sans cynicism there is still something subversive when, for example, he sings "We're all going to die" before a canned True Stories-esque synth kicks in on the album's penultimate track, "When the Dreams Run Dry."
Decades into their career, it still feels like a left turn when the Killers write a song that doesn't feel like a soundtrack to a montage of a road trip through heartland America. And the classic Killers cuts here are among their best — both "My Own Soul's Warning" and "Caution" are absolute belters, brimming with big dumb leads, impatiently peppy tempos and timeless Flowers vocals. But there's nary a skip across all of the album's 10 tracks. In fact, it's a release that feels simultaneously expansive and small, offering tasteful Taylor Swift-esque pop ("Blowback"), noughties dance pop ("Dying Breed," which risks being LCD Soundsystem-lite before hitting another beast of a chorus), mid-period Bowie synthpop ("Lightning Fields," "Fire in Bone") and, in a deft move, a closing title track that sounds less like a sprawling rock ballad and more like the end credits of a Nickelodeon kids show.
The Killers have well over a dozen songs that have soundtracked myriad life experiences for aging millennials, so it's easy to understand why they've always been considered a greatest hits band. Their albums are also filled with moments of goofy goodness ("Be Still," "This River Is Wild"), but the hits were simply too great to reconcile with the rest of the catalogue. By shedding any cool pretence and steering directly into the skid of adult alternative cheese, the Killers have followed a lifetime of perfect songs and made their first truly great album. (Island)