Monday, October 6, 2008

Not quite human

Although their two previous albums are firmly in the okay-to-pretty-good category, The Killers have been a consistent singles band (their only dog is "Bones"). The Jacques Lu Cont remix of "Mr Brightside," "When You Were Young," and the Pet Shop Boys' remix of "Read My Mind" have made my singles best-of list for the last three years; only Missy Elliott has a comparable winning streak. Brandon Flowers' voice, while pinched and too wispy at the high end, is attractive in a Phil Oakey sort of way: if it wasn't for his band, he'd probably be the manager of a chic cigar bar in Chicago, one who selects the in-house music, most of which is composed of selections from New Romantic synth-duo acts. He's so awkward. They're so awkward. Every song, even the ones I like, teeters on the edge of collapse as a result of a misplaced guitar riff or Flowers' overwrought emoting.

But it's endearing. Flowers and the three ugly guys in his band hide behind the glossy mirrorball pulse, and when it throbs as insistently as it does on their new single "Human," they can make you forget that the bland roundness of Flowers' face isn't the only indicator of how whitebread his ambitions and lusts are. Andrew Unterberger writes, "They idolize David Bowie, but sound awkward and confused singing come-ons. They wanna be as important as U2, but don’t care about anything in particular." I would say, "Like Bowie, they're awkward and confused singing come-ons; like U2 they want to be important but care about nothing in particular." Which is why a chorus like "Are we human/Or are we dancer?," positing an ontological tease as mere mirror moves, is his most convincing twaddle yet. David Keunig's treated arpeggio, with its echoes of Lu Cont's work on Madonna's "Sorry," adds the right kind of tinsel.

The Killers make excellent targets: those absurd mustaches, their Texas ties, the symphonic pretensions. Flowers' gay envy is touchingly misplaced, but without it they'd be one more modern act with revved-up sonics and a dry jockstrap. The Killers need it; beneath the pulp they're emotionally opaque. I'd tempted to classify them as "post-adult" for the clumsiness with which their lyrics inflate teenage melodrama into teenage poetry, and the distance between Flowers and the din of the music.

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