Album art courtesy of The Killers
Review by Caroline Moses
The Killers, the beloved Las Vegas anthem-rock outfit, put out their first album in five years, Wonderful Wonderful, on September 22nd, quieting fears among fans that the band was on hiatus prompted by their release of a best-hits album in 2013 and the announcement over the summer that two of the core members would not be touring to support the record. Given this atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding the album, it feels appropriate that it is, in essence, such a classic Killers album. Full of swelling choruses and underdog stories, the record delivers on its promise that The Killers haven’t gone anywhere. Wonderful Wonderful has its hits and its misses, but I think fans will be relieved to hear that not too much has changed since Battle Born, their 2012 ode to their home state of Nevada.
The album opens with its title track, a prodigal son-type story about a “motherless child” being saved by a narrator who speaks in King James Bible-like English. Whether this is meant to be the voice of God offering a spiritual home or a person offering a literal home, as with many Killers songs, remains unclear. The religious imagery that suffuses the band’s previous three albums continues to feature heavily on Wonderful Wonderful. In fact, “The Calling,” the second-to-last song on the record, opens with a reading from the book of Matthew, and goes on to urge the listener to “lean into the light,” and further references to the Bible make it clear that they’re referring to a particular Light. “Life to Come,” while it primarily concerns a romantic relationship, makes use of afterlife imagery.
This album also features a song that could loosely be described as political, “Run For Cover.” While the song more generally references running from untrustworthy people for self preservation, it opens with a scene of an insincere apology from a senator embroiled in a sex scandal, and features two lines which could be seen as jabs at Donald Trump: “It’s even harder when the dirt-bag’s famous,” and “he’s got a big smile, he’s fake news.” While it could hardly be described as a strong political statement, it’s notable given that The Killers’ music has always been almost totally apolitical; one possible exception would be the video about human trafficking made for their song “Goodnight, Travel Well,” off their third album Day and Age. What those lines do in the grander context of the album, if anything, is unclear, but it seems significant that in this climate even a band as mainstream as The Killers—who have roots in the Mormon community and generally shy away from current events—feels that they ought to make some sort of statement.
That song and several others feature the theme of dealing with loss or failure. Boxer Sonny Liston, who lost his title to Muhammad Ali, gets mentioned in “Run For Cover,” and an entire song gets dedicated to another boxing upset in “Tyson vs. Douglas.” The song is one of the funniest and most upbeat on the record, describing a little boy reacting with horror to the scene on TV of Mike Tyson getting knocked out. The melodrama of the scene is meant to be somewhat comedic (“I had to hold my breath till the coast was clear”), but the fight is also seen as a turning point in the child’s development, where he has to face the fact that even heroes fail sometimes (“You can change the channel, take the phone off the hook/avoid the headlines, but you’ll never grow up, baby, if you don’t look”). In the second verse, the attention shifts to Tyson himself, imagining what it must have felt like in the ring (“what did they pay you, what did it cost?/How long did it take you to realize you’d lost?”).
Two songs at the beginning of the record, “The Man” and “Rut” also focus on winners and losers. “The Man,” with an abundance of swagger and a production style that recalls Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, is the epitome of a pump-up song, with lyrics like “Got gas in the tank/Got money in the bank/I’ve got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man” and “Cause baby I’m gifted/You see what I mean/USDA certified lean.” Like “Tyson vs. Douglas,” “The Man” is a lot of fun, and possibly the best song on the album. The song immediately following it is called “Rut,” and has a nearly opposite affect, much slower and quieter, a plea to a lover not to be abandoned in lean times. The juxtaposition of these two songs seems to make the wider point of the album, which is that ups and downs are natural—no one stays on top forever, and no one is beyond hope.
The Killers have been a mainstay since their debut album in 2004, and while they’ve been touring extensively lately, it’s good to see them putting out new material. Even when it features some clumsy lines like “drop-kick the shame,” Wonderful Wonderful is still enjoyable to listen to, good workout or driving music, like Battle Born and Sam’s Town before it. Here’s to something that stays constant.