Friday, September 03, 2021

The Killers of the American dream

‘Pressure Machine’, the new album by The Killers, is a lyrically vivid homage to the American dream and the American reality – or maybe a fictive, heightened reality; a terrible and beautiful poetry; a country ballad and a nihilistic rock-out; an intensely and reflexively filmic scrapbook of contemporary Americana. 

The album opens with a crackly cassette tape recording of small-town talking heads, recounting the ordinariness of modern life’s contrasts. A woman who has lived here all her life says that “it’s a good community”. This is cut with a man recounting a story of violence against a brother who didn’t fit into the same neighbourhood. Contradictions: this tangled life, violent and safe, suffocating and comforting. These voices return later to punctuate several more songs on the album. These characterful interludes almost seem to have come out of a focused free-writing approach to lyric construction, probing and reimagining Brandon Flower’s adolescent memories through the mind of a subtly wearier traveller and seasoned songsmith. This is the most lyrically accomplished album that The Killers have ever written.


We are straight into a “hillbilly heroin pills” waking fever dream of R.E.M., Springsteen and Nick Cave with the opening track ‘West Hills’. Drugs, religion, southern vernacular, the mandolin, violin, the reverbed snare, and a chorus line that reaches up in pain with the words “Free! In the West Hills” skirting a tone above the root note and resolving back down in a slide as if the third note of the minor chord was too obvious or too painful.


This is an intense album, and I’m only halfway through the first song.


Now a flashback to Fiona Apple’s cover of ‘The Whole of the Moon’. Now Patti Smith on ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’. The next track comes in with a phasing 80s keyboard part that tips its hat at The Weeknd before blending into a quit-your-job-and-walk-out-of-town anthem called ‘Quiet Town’. A harmonica comes in as the band plays on in the language of country rock: Springsteen and dreamy R.E.M. again. This is a pastoral painting in every sensory mode. The chorus mutates through three different nostalgic iterations of “this quiet town / They know how to live / Good people who lean on Jesus / they’re quick to forgive.”


And so, to ‘Terrible Thing’, a pared-down meditation on the quiet imagery of guns and religion and rodeos. Flowers and a simple guitar riff – is the narrator detached or passive or resigned? Then on to ‘Cody’, which sounds like Crowded House at the height of their pop-rock harmonic progressions, and we hear an embittered and critical view from a character left behind by a lifetime of stories about Jesus. ‘Sleepwalker’ builds a world of hunting and fertile landscape, but paints it with a pale fear, albeit wrapped in a dancy country-rock song. The same thematic mood bleeds across into ‘Runaway Horses’, a quieter teenage love story duet with Phoebe Bridgers.


Next, on to a 2020s / 1980s very Killers electric organ-drum machine loop that blends into a fresh and sweeping pop song. Harking back to ‘Hot Fuss’, but with the benefit of the passage of time, and viewed through a wistful but rosy retrospectoscope, ‘In The Car Outside’ paints in the emotions of lost love and regained connection at a tempo to run up a hill and look at the sunrise to – and when you get there, ‘In Another Life’ brings you back down to the same reality but at a resting heartrate.


‘Desperate Things’ is a slow-burning reverbed electric guitar ballad – and powerful story about complicated relationships, alcohol and domestic violence. “But when people in love are desperate enough to abandon their dreams / People do desperate things.” Then the title track, ‘Pressure Machine’, enters like the theme song from Due South, with a lean and clean electric riff and I-IV-V country blues chords. As we steel-slide into ethereal emo pop falsettos, maybe Lou Reed is looking down to guide the vocal phrasing, alongside a wisp of Phosphorescent’s ‘Song For Zula’ in the instrumentation.


The final track, ‘The Getting By’, brings us back to the liminal space between the American dream and the American reality. Between God and Earth. Heaven is a place “Where there might be many mansions / But when I look up, all I see is sky.” But this moment of narrative sadness resolves with a soulful call to keep keeping on: “So put another day in, son and hold on ‘til the getting’s good.” 


This is a well-crafted return to form for The Killers, which will delight die-hard fans as well as drawing in new listeners to the bleakly beautiful and always fascinating landscape of American blues rock-pop.


John Weston


 Image: The Oriel Company PR


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Here;