The Killers Fit Bombast and Idealism to ‘80s Sensibilities on ‘Imploding the Mirage’
There are few bands that manage to explore bold new sonic directions and still sound unmistakably like themselves, with the attributes that first won them fans enhanced rather than compromised. The Killers accomplish this on their latest album, “Imploding the Mirage,” in spite of having lost a core member, guitarist Dave Keuning. Now a trio, frontman Brandon Flowers and crew recruit a slew of illustrious guests. At the helm is co-producer Foxygen’s Jonathan Ross. Along for the ride are Blake Mills, Shawn Everett, Weyes Blood, Lucius, War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindey Buckinham. A natural and uplifting followup from 2017’s “Wonderful Wonderful,” which focused on Flowers’ wife’s struggle with PTSD, the new album upholds the importance of staying together in taxing times. It’s a sentiment perfectly suited for both Flowers’ characteristic, idealistic bombast and the band’s new ‘80s-informed sound.
“My Own Soul’s Warning” kicks off the album with Flowers offering introspective reflections with spiritual undertones over fittingly new age atmospherics, then promptly erupting into bombastic arena rock of the most gleeful variety. With a twee melodic refrain, propulsive guitars, crashing drums, and Flowers wearing his heart on his sleeve in a decidedly stadium way, the song evokes the excesses of bands like the Arcade FIre, and of course, speaks to Flowers’ long adoration of Springsteen. The lyrics, meanwhile, are filled with lines like “If you could see through the banner of the sun,” which seem to echo early Latter Day Saints leader W.W. Phelps’ 19th century LDS hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” featuring a series of “If you could” invocations. After all, Flowers is a practitioner of that faith.
These overblown gestures can be a bit much, and the band wisely intersperses them with more pointed tunes that channel the same vigor into a slightly more understated format. “Blowback,” featuring Adam Granduciel, captures the band with all their instincts well executed. There’s a beaming chorus, and lyrics about a girl “seating on a secret she didn’t ask for,” that keep things elegantly open ended, but invariably return to questions like “Can you cast out a demon? Can you wrangle the wind?”
One of the album’s most striking features is the new focus on ‘80s sounds, which have long made their way into the Killers’ music, but never to such an extent. “Dying Breed” plods forward with a post punk stomp and breaks into synth decadence that could hardly better fit Flowers’ bona fide excesses. It’s an especially heartwarming track, with lyrics directed toward Flowers’ wife that might normally seem laughable trite, but here come offset by the disarming nature of the accompanying music. When he laments, “Baby, we’re a dying breed,” Flowers returns to a subject he has explored before in songs like “Hard Enough” from his 2010 solo debut “Flamingo” — the idea of being out of step with one’s contemporaries, regarding antiquated romantic values.
Lead single “Caution” has everything a single ought to offer. Everything teased elsewhere is in full focus here — the ‘80s predilections, the arena bombast, the upright sentiments at the core. Flowers sings about leaving Las Vegas, the band’s hometown, but from the perspective of a female character, a “featherweight queen.” It’s a delight to hear the little references he peppers through tracks, in this case an allusion to Paul Simon’s “Rich Girl,” when he explains that she “Never had a diamond on the sole of her shoes.” He goes on to deliver such priceless lines as “If I don’t get out, out of this town / I just might be the one who finally burns it down,” which should be relatable to anyone who has spent a bit too long in Vegas.
You can hear echoes of Kate Bush in “Lightning Fields,” featuring K.D. Lang, which finds Flowers exhibiting an unprecedented dramatic flair as he fantasizes about an ex, and eventually breaks into a singalong chorus that brings things at once back to ground and back to stadium proportions. Second single “Fire In Bone” is an especially drastic departure in sound, with the band delving into a type of offbeat funk that screams of early Talking Heads. They go all out with this sound, and Flowers’ camp inflections are enough to make the track, presented with dedicated showmanship. It’s a lyrical departure as well, in that Flowers keeps his words more open ended than usual, singing about coming out of a relationship empty handed, using cryptic language with vaguely biblical allusions.
Considering the Kate Bush influence, a track named “Running Towards a Place” is quite hilarious. It could be a mere coincidence, but a listen would suggest otherwise. Fortunately, Flowers does his influences more than justice. Lyrics like “We’re running towards a place where we’ll walk as one / And the sadness of this life will be overcome” reprise the committed fortitude expressed in “Dying Breed,” but seem especially relatable in the times of Covid, when nearly everything is uncertain.
The music gets downright epic on “Thank God,” a central track in that it gives context to the album’s title in its opening lines, “Mirage after mirage / Crawling back to your arms.” All the talk of staying together and all the religiosity find their most emphatic expression here, so much so that the song borders on self parody with a new bold disregard. Weyes Blood shows up at her most operatic, and contributes volumes, riffing off Flowers’ gospel outpourings with outlandish embellishments, and swelling the song to new proportions.
After all the hallmark positivity running through the album, “When the Dreams Run Dry” can come as something of a relief with its tragicomic refrain of “We’re all going to die.” Of course, Flowers turns this into a compelling bit of idealism, replete with a soaring, uplifting chorus, beamed into the stratosphere with synths that outdo those on any other track. He pulls it off marvelously. Everything is elevated and exaggerated, escalating to lines like “You just follow the moon / To the stars, to the suns,” and somehow Flowers makes it sound just about right. After all of this, the title track rings like the final summation of sentiments screamed from mountaintops. With a cheery central riff affirming the album’s unflinching optimism, Flowers ends with all the bombast he began with, looking back on troubled times and emerging resplendent, as he sings, “While you were out there… I was imploding the mirage.”
The Killers have always had a knack for securing broad radio appeal, while retaining a spot in the safest enclaves of hipsterdom. On “Imploding the Mirage,” however, they take on considerably larger proportions. The departure of Keuning could have easily led to a skimpy sound, but the band compensate with their most fully fleshed out and nuanced songs to date. Such an abundance of guest features might normally seem gimmicky, but in this case, every appearance works a little magic. The new ‘80s fixation is a direction that suits the band well, playing up to all Flowers indulgences, and serving them up in a fitting format. There are countless bands that coyly flirt with such retro sounds, but the Killers go all the way, and own them on this record. While Flowers’ lyrics can seem sanctimonious at first, he delivers them with such conviction, over the course of the album, that in the end, one simply has to tip a hat to him and keep nodding to the catchy choruses.
“Imploding the Mirage” releases Aug. 21 on Apple Music.