The Killers’ Brandon Flowers wrote “A Dustland Fairytale” in 2008 (for the band’s third album, Day & Age) as his mother battled brain cancer; she died a few years later. The resulting song is a typically epic Killers saga, crafting the story of his parents falling in love in a trailer park in 1961, although knowing the track’s full backstory makes the lyrics rather tear-inducing (“Now Cinderella don’t you go to sleep… Don’t you know the kingdom’s under siege / And everybody needs you.”) It’s a poignant tale that, frankly, could fit right into the Bruce Springsteen canon, alongside great love-in-real-life tracks like “The River.” The New Jersey legend has long been an obvious influence on The Killers, but The Boss has nothing but good things to say about the Vegas band, professing in a recent interview, “It makes you happy to see where your music goes and who it inspires.”
Recently, Springsteen actually texted Flowers about getting together to do a new version of “Dustland,” necessitating a name change for the song to reflect the addition of the creator of “Jungleland,” “Badlands,” and “The Promised Land,” to name just a few. The result is an inspired reworking of an already great track, as Springsteen’s gravelly vocals mix astonishingly well with Flowers’ famously emotive vibrato. Both songwriters are able to paint complete visuals in their songs, and “Dustland” is no exception, evoking the same shimmering strands of nostalgia that Springsteen so often utilizes: “Is there still magic in the midnight sun / Or did you leave it back in sixty-one / In the cadence in the young man’s eyes.”
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Whereas Springsteen’s guest star appearance on The Bleachers’ recent (and toothless, frankly) “Chinatown” didn’t seem to add much past a deeper vocal line, “Dustland” reflects a true collaboration between a band and the artist who inspired them in the first place. Springsteen adds some welcome grit to a song that previously floated close to ethereal, and—like the legend he is—makes it his own as well. The anguished pleas over Cinderella’s departure as “Dustland” builds to its tragic crescendo are real on both sides, leaving the touched listener desperately hoping for further collaborations between the pair—before immediately playing the song again.