What has the world come to expect of The Killers, now that Brandon Flowers and his desert-glam comrades have entered their second decade as a band and issued album No. 4? It’s safe to assume that fans don’t want them to change all that much, and the haters will just keep hating, so with Battle Born—a Nevada slogan, as well as the name of the Las Vegas group’s studio—they’ve wisely remained focused on the road that got them here: by aligning themselves with synth-laden ’80s memories, writing anthemic choruses, and making sure there’s some dance attached to their rock.
It’s been nearly four years between studio albums, and in the interim the guys have kept busy with solo and side projects, none of which seem to have distracted them from the task at hand. In fact, Battle Born just might be The Killers’ most focused record, which isn’t typically what’s suggested by the involvement of five different producers. (For those keeping score: Steve Lillywhite, Brendan O’Brien, Daniel Lanois, Stuart Price, and Damian Taylor.) It’s just that they don’t seem to be forcing themselves in one direction or another—while Sam’s Town went extra-serious and Day & Age reacted by going playful, Battle Born is the first record since Hot Fuss where the band is vying for attention simply by doing what comes naturally. Perhaps it’s this nostalgic feeling that prompted them to insert some of the guitar from “Mr. Brightside” into “Miss Atomic Bomb,” which itself contains some wistful memories from Flowers about being young and making out in the desert on a hot night.)
Sure, the band’s music fits arenas just fine, but there’s also something sort of scrappy about its approach to writing and recording. Maybe it’s because they simply don’t have the skills to become seasoned veterans, but whatever the case, the results are working in their favor; instead of being blandly polished, The Killers come off sounding like an excited young band with something to prove. That, in turn, makes it easier to relate to Flowers than to the Bonos of the world, whether he’s singing his way through doomed relationships or stirring up some empathy for the “waiters and dealers trying to get their foot in the door” in his hometown, as described in “Heart Of A Girl,” whose gentle, Lou Reed-esque musical accompaniment brings to mind both “Walk On The Wild Side” and “Sweet Jane.” Understated moments tend to be few and far between for The Killers, and they usually sound better the more epic they go—“Flesh And Bone,” “Runaways,” “A Matter Of Time,” and the aforementioned “Miss Atomic Bomb” are all rewardingly dramatic and stand out as highlights. They say go big or go home, but The Killers went home and made something as big as fans’ expectations.