The Killers have returned to their Las Vegas roots with their fourth studio album, released Sept. 18. The album, titled “Battle Born,” is named after their home state’s nickname. The 12-song record is an ambitious journey from arena rock to soft electronic ballads and back again. Though it has been four years since they released “Day & Age,” The Killers seem at home on “Battle Born” with every song squeezing together their Springsteen-esque storytelling and glittery synth-and-guitar-driven instrumentals. Much more rock-heavy than their previous attempts, “Battle Born” seems to aim for a rollicking hit with every track, but only some hit the mark.
The album starts with the haunting “Flesh and Bone,” a track that seems to air out all of The Killers’ best traits: their grandiose, almost-cheesy lyrics, frontman Brandon Flowers’ powerful voice, and verses skillfully built up to an explosive chorus. This is one of the few true rockers on an album that’s almost as easy to sing along with as “Spaceman” or “When You Were Young” before it. The true anthem, however, is the first single off the disc, “Runaways.” The track starts off running and doesn’t slow down except to tell the tale of a stormy, young romance. With rocking guitars and a wailing chorus, this is the track you’ll be belting out in your car with the windows down.
“The Way It Was” starts off reminiscent of 80s hits, but the chorus eases it into a current pop track. This song showcases Flowers’ voice at its best, covering his full range and turning an otherwise boring track into something worth listening to with poetic lyrics like “That paradise is buried in the dust.” “The Way It Was” and “Here With Me” both carry very synth-heavy backbeats that remind a fan of “Day & Age” but are used to fill out the ballads instead of pushing the previous album’s rolling electronic pop. Though The Killers’ work usually feels like it is from another time — whether from the future with their last effort or to a mid-century small town in “Sam’s Town” — lyrics like “I don’t want your picture on my cell phone, I want you here with me” confirm that they finally brought their lyrics with them to the present.
The driving drumbeat on “A Matter of Time” references their debut, “Hot Fuss,” but after the strong start of these first tracks, the middle of the album falls into a slump of repetition. It seems like “Deadlines and Commitments,” “Miss Atomic Bomb” and “The Rising Tide” are drafts of the first few songs — each track is another attempt at a Brucelike anthem laced with a too-ambitious storyline. “Heart of a Girl” finally slows down the record with a ballad, with Flowers singing, “I’ve got all night to listen to the heart of a girl.”
“Hallelujah the trouble’s gone” is an apt lyric for “From Here On Out,” which picks up “Battle Born” again with the most fun track on the album. The “life goes on” spirit only lasts so long, as “From Here On Out” is unfortunately the shortest song at two and a half minutes — a quickie on an album where each song clocks in around four minutes. “Be Still” is the last slowdown for the show, with Flowers nearly speaking his lullabylike lyrics. It’s lovely to listen to if you are truly in the mood for a song to sleep to.
The title track is a great way to finish the album if only because the entire album yearns for another epic like “Runaways.” It doesn’t quite succeed, but it is definitely the closest next to “Flesh and Bone.” The song is trying very hard to be an ode for those who are “Battle Born,” with great strings and crashing drums opening it up. “When you get knocked down, you’re gonna get back on your feet” is a bit cliched for a rock song, but the guitar licks are almost enough to make you forgive the been-there-done-that feel. By far the heaviest track, it’s almost a strange ending to an album full of softer songs, some forgettable and all trying to be big, shiny and heroic. But for The Killers, coming together after four years, trying so hard to produce hit tracks with some art and poetry to them, it’s to be expected that some will fail where others will fly. After all, as the ending track says, “You never shine if you never burn.”