October 1, 2006
Sam's Town: What happens in Vegas
The Guardian has it right. I am happy to give The Killers a generally favorable review for their CD, but there is another side to this story. Recorded in a casino, Sam's Town is loaded with hooks. Some take longer to appear in the crashing muddle of guitars the band decided to use for the album - clearly influenced by what works in a stadium. My roommate, who tuned them on to me, heard this album once and said "Ugh! Dirges! Where is the fun?"
Roommate Julie has a point, but there are some real gems here. I think that "Bones" stands among their best, with it's winky choral "Come with meee!" intro followed by those fabulous synth bell sounds that are so 80's. It even has horns and a fab spoken word bit. When done well, we love spoken word bits! "Read My Mind" has a bit of synthy atmosphere pawned from U2 and "Bling" has a chorus reminiscient of something from The Cure's Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me.
In a Janet Jackson Twist, one of the best songs is not on the album. "All The Pretty Faces" has Iron Maiden metal chords, decent wailing from Brandon and a killer (heh) melody. Just replace that crappy "Uncle Johnny" with this one on your iTunes playlist!
Need I say again how brilliant "When You Were Young" is? Aye! Fantastic! The song is an over-the-top Springsteen pastiche, but it's so urgent, melodic and well crafted that it succeeds on its own. Totally thrilling and I (just me, from what I've read in reviews) love the "burning down...on the back of a hurricane" line. Add to that a wonderfully pretentious video and it's all just peachy. Sort of...
There are indeed many problems with Sam's Town that are leaving reviewers wide berth to slam it it: 1) The lyrics are sometimes horrifically trite. In some cases ("When You Were Young") the Springsteen homage works fine, but there is a spoken word bit at the end of "The River Is Wild" about fairgrounds that is ripped right from Born To Run and is truly embarrassing. Why not replace those lines with Brandon screaming "Brooooooce!"- it would be more subtle. 2) The vocals on the aforementioned "River" are strained, to put it nicely. Brandon is trying hard to push his voice, but let's leave the uncontrolled singing to Sinead O'Connor - she has the pipes for it. Brandon just sounds like a Robert Smith/Cure fanatic. 3) The album has an Embrace problem going on. It needs more of a balance between big stadium thumpers/dirges and lighter like tracks "Read My Mind". Thought I find the "Enterlude" and "Exitlude" kind of infantile in title and sound (a circus theme!? How new!) I like the use of piano on the "Exitlude" - the CD needs more of that. Finally, 4) the band member with the big face needs a haircut. Now. That brassy, frizzed-out mane just adds to the bigness of his head. I say that with love, as someone whose hair is often too big.
Let's just summarize by listing the tracks I think are keepers: "Bones", "Read My Mind", "When You Were Young", "Bling" and of course, the neglected metal-chord fiesta "All The Pretty Faces". This is the age of iTunes and track by track buying. Take advantage of that!
Sorry Killers fans. If you're looking for the next "All The Things That I've Done" it's not here, but it's probably on that Delays album you ignored in January.