The Killers always seem to be a band on a mission. After breaking through with their 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, they returned with Sam’s Town, on which they were determined to silence their critics, pay homage to Bruce Springsteen and dress like riverboat blackjack dealers, all while making — as Brandon Flowers famously put it — “one of the best albums in the past 20 years.”
Of course, the jury’s still out on whether that mission was successful (most critics would certainly disagree with Flowers’ assertion) … so on 2008’s Day & Age, the Killers dialed the ambition — and the bolo ties — back a tad, seemingly content to make the best Duran Duran album since Rio. And in that regard, they succeeded in sparkling, synthesized spades.
So given all that, one has to wonder: What’s the plan for their new album, Battle Born (due September 18)? After all, they’ve already been slightly foppish anglophiles, red-blooded Americans and the heirs to Simon LeBon’s glittery throne. So this time out, they appear ready to try something else entirely: they just want to be a rock and roll band.
This became apparent during their recent run stripped-down shows (which, to be fair, still relied pretty heavily on arena-sized bombast), where there was nary a bedazzled object to be seen on stage. Instead, the Killers dressed in black, ditched the artifice, and just blasted through a series of songs, both old and new. They even appeared to sweat. It was a good look for them.
And now, as further evidence of their transformation, they’ve unveiled the video for Battle Born’s first single, “Runaways,” a dark, dreamy thing that relies less on razzle-dazzle as it does performance, imagery and metaphor. It is unquestionably the most muted thing they’ve ever done (especially when compared to overwrought epics like “When You Were Young”), little more than a starry sky, a dust-strewn valley and an open stretch of highway. These are all inherently American images, meant to invoke the kind of heart-swelling, lung-expanding pride the Killers have felt for years now, and it’s interesting that this time out, they’ve decided to express those sentiments in delightfully understated ways … especially considering Americans have never really been known for their subtlety.
And come to think of it, neither have the Killers. They’ve always been a band that operates in the most massive way possible. Until now, it would seem. With “Runaways” — and Battle Born — their mission is clear: Forget about the boasts, forget about the baubles; focus on the band. And in that regard, these certainly aren’t the Killers you grew up with; they’re something entirely new … like, for starters, strangely humble.