Monday, September 22, 2008

They're Killing Me: The Killers' New Single

I've just gotten a hold of The Killers' new single Human off of their forthcoming third LP Day and Age. After their sophomore effort of Sam's Town, I was hugely disappointed, but like an abused lover, I keep coming back to Brandon Flowers and Co. Maybe it's because their first album meant so much to me at the time of its release and reminds me of relatively good times. Maybe I can't forget the excitement of seeing and hearing The Killers for the first time on British television in the spring of 2004 and the subsequent excitement when I saw them in a ridiculously tiny venue in Winnipeg that fall. Maybe I'm waiting for another flash of brilliance like All These Things That I've Done. Maybe I'm just a masochist.

Despite the rather expansive nature and catchiness of When You Were Young, Sam's Town was The Killers doing Bruce Springsteen and consciously shifting from anglophilia to Americana, Colonel Sanders ties and all. This move may have lost them some of their old fans and it may very well have gained them new ones and further visibility. They lost me - not only do I obviously prefer British sensibilities in music, but I also felt the inevitable shift in attitude because of fame. No, I do not want to pay a ridiculous amount of money to become a Victim (what those in The Killers' fan club are called - appropriate in so many ways). No, I don't want to purchase a b-sides album when I was already ripped off for a few of those b-sides when I bought the special edition of Hot Fuss after I already had the original release - that duet with Lou Reed and lukewarm cover of Shadowplay (though at least the cover brought them back to a British sound) didn't entice me. All of it smelled rather strongly of record label interference and money-grabbing. I became so disenchanted that I just began ignoring the band and unsubscribed to their e-newsletter. Then I heard that they would be releasing a new album this year. So, I began hoping again that maybe, just maybe, things would be different this time because they promised.

I downloaded Human as quick as, well, humanly possible and took a listen. Granted this is just my humble first impression. And granted, this single may not reflect the entire album as a whole. But I don't get Human. It feels like a relatively decent electropop track that is spoiled by Flowers' vocals - they're slightly folky/country and limply out of step with the pumping synthesizers. It's like putting Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash on the mic while Cut Copy or Pet Shop Boys plays the background. When I later looked the song up on Wikipedia, it seems that the band was gunning for exactly that effect - in fact Flowers makes the analogy of Johnny Cash meets the Pet Shop Boys, so at least I know my music compass isn't off. And now I also know that The Killers are doing this on purpose, which makes me feel less hopeful about the forthcoming album release. The inexplicable refrain of "Are we human, or are we dancer?" doesn't seem particularly clever even though the song's concept had potential as commentary on the fragility of the human condition.

I'm trying to figure out just what could improve the song and make it more palatable - maybe a different singing style more in line with the staccato style of songs off Hot Fuss; maybe more vocoder; or maybe no vocal at all. The clash of musical styles may have been experimental, so I give The Killers kudos for trying, but the results don't work for me. While the attempt is made for some spiritual searching like that in All These Things That I've Done, it just doesn't edify me in remotely the same way. It's like the band is trying to mash up their first two albums into one style to have the best of both worlds or to have their eyeliner and their moustaches too. That's Freddie Mercury and that's just presumptuousness. Or maybe they're just confused as I am at this moment.

Time will tell whether this song will ever grow on me or whether the next album will actually be better than this song suggests. You can judge Human for yourself by downloading it below. Knowing me, I'll drag my broken body back to them again for more abuse before I completely give up. Maybe The Killers will be kind enough to finish me off this time.


Rol said...

Obviously I come at The Killers from a completely different direction from you as I love both The Smiths AND Springsteen, so the move from one to the other between their first and second album was well-received in these parts.

That said, not sure what I make of the new one. I need to give it a few more listens to see if it works. Then again, I like both JC and the PSBs too, so it could work...

King Doug said...

Can't say I've ever really been a fan of The Killers anyway, mainly because his vocals really grate with me. They had a couple of decent songs on Hot Fuss, but seeing how weak his voice is in a live context put me off them a lot, so I'm not surprised you're finding his vocals off-putting on this track.

zooey said...

No way, human is amazing.

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