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The Killers - Battle Born Album Cover

The Killers - Battle Born

Reviewed by
9.0
The Killers - Battle Born
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Record Label: Island Records
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
Brandon Flowers is a machine. Since The Killers’ debut LP Hot Fuss exploded back in 2004, he’s released a new album every two years like clockwork, always in the fall, and always preceded by an anthemic lead-off single. It’s worked well: the first two are modern classics, Hot Fuss a pristine example of what radio-rock should sound like and Sam’s Town a stunning work of Springsteen-esque heartland rock and towering hubris. Things got a little more confusing on album number three, 2008’s Day & Age, which tried to blend the Vegas-centered new wave of Fuss with the arena-sweep of its follow-up, to mixed results. Looking back, Day & Age was nowhere near the disaster that many listeners made it out to be, but it was unquestionably the weakest album Flowers and company had put out. Even worse, its scatterbrained musical styling and bizarre left-turns suggested that either the band was getting restless with their image, exhausted from the nonstop, marathon schedule they had been operating on since they stumbled upon fame, or just running out of ideas. Most of them needed a break, but Flowers kept on trucking: he made a masterful solo album called Flamingo in 2010, a record that went back to the Vegas roots of the first album and maintained the epic scope of Sam’s Town, but drenched them both in Americana textures.

For those of us who wondered what Flamingo would have sounded like with the full force of The Killers behind it, the question is ostensibly answered with Battle Born. Largely, the songs here have the same wandering, soul-searching tendencies that developed on Flowers’ last two albums, but the style is refined. Take the meandering “Heart of a Girl,” which channels The Velvet Underground with a bass-heavy opening, ringing keys at the break, and Flowers’ best Lou Reed impression. “A Matter of Time” kicks off as a retread of Flamingo’s “Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts” before exploding into a cinematic rocker that could easily have been on Sam’s Town. “When we first met, headstrong and filled with doubt/Made just enough hustling tables that summer to take you out/I was fallin’ back on forever when you told me about your heart/You laid it on the line,” Flowers belts out halfway through. It’s a song rife with the euphoria of first love, but it’s also a shape-shifter, and as the tension builds throughout, we feel the relationship evaporate before our eyes. By the time Flowers reaches the “wreckage of broken dreams and burned out halos” waiting for him in the final lines, everything has changed.

Thematic connections begin to form between the songs on Battle Born as one delves further into them. The rousing “Miss Atomic Bomb” reflects on the naivety of the characters in “A Matter of Time” (“You were standing with your girlfriends in the street/Fallin’ back on forever, I wonder what you came to be,” Flowers sings at the outset), but also plays as a sequel (or rather, prequel) of sorts to “Mr. Brightside.” “I was new in town, the boy with the eager eyes,” he states in the first verse, calling back to the hit that made him a rock star. We already know that the girl in the story ends up cheating, but “Miss Atomic Bomb” examines the narrative on a more personal and nostalgic level. The song builds to a multi-tracked vocal climax, Flowers baring his soul in a maze of anguish accentuated perfectly by the song’s tumultuous and bombastic musical structure. It’s the closest the band has come to the sound and feel of Hot Fuss in years, and for many, that will be the biggest selling point of Battle Born. The same can be said for the synthy 80s pop of “Deadlines and Commitments,” a dark spiral of song which serves as the perfect bridge between the album’s two thematic pillars, or “The Rising Tide,” which gives Dave Keuning a roaring and disorienting solo: this is the band people fell in love with eight years ago.

But while musical and thematic elements from both Hot Fuss and Flamingo are revisited here, Bruce Springsteen is clearly still Flowers’ go-to musical influence. He’s all over these songs, whether we’re talking about the two aforementioned narratives of young love or the skyscraping lead single “Runaways.” Perhaps it’s not so surprising for a band that has made their name on larger-than-life chart toppers, but “Runaways” is arguably the best song you will hear on the radio airwaves this year. This is the “When We Were Young,” the “Read My Mind”; in Boss terms, the lyricism falls someone between “Born to Run” (“Let’s take a chance baby we can’t lose”) and “The River” (“There's a picture of us on our wedding day/I recognize the girl but I can't settle in these walls”), but the ultimate impact is universal either way. Once the explosive third verse crackles through the speakers, all influences and preconceptions are rendered moot by the overwhelming power of the Herculean arrangement; a lot of bands attempt the arena-sized anthem, but almost nobody does them better than this.

Speaking of arena-filling choruses, album-highlight “Here With Me” has a mammoth one. It’s a shameless 80s-style power ballad, more reminiscent of Journey or Foreigner than Springsteen or U2, but Flowers pulls it off. Piano chords and reverb-drenched vocals serve as the commencement, a fitting kick-off for a tune that builds into a modern-day cigarette lighter love song. “I don’t want your picture on my cell phone/I want you here with me,” Flowers proclaims on the chorus, wearing the potentially hokey line proudly and somehow transforming it into a transcendent battle cry. That’s the thing about Flowers: for all of his egotistical remarks and conflict-inciting interactions with other bands, you never doubt his conviction. He has the voice, the charisma, and the searing emotional audacity to give an epic classic rock record (which is essentially what Battle Born builds into) its gravitational pull, and while the contributions from his band are very obviously instrumental here, it’s his heart-and-soul dedication to these songs that ultimately makes them work.

It’s fitting that Battle Born closes with its title track. From the resounding guitar hits (culled directly from The Who's “Baba O'Riley”) to the “Bohemian Rhapsody”-flavored back-up vocals, all the way to a verse that apes Woodie Guthrie’s “The Land is Your Land,” “Battle Born” is one hell of a climax. When the song finally shatters into a gospel-flavored coda, a minute and a half from its conclusion, it’s hard for me not to think of Battle Born as the greatest record these guys have ever made. Its certainly the most cohesive – an album about the euphoric innocence and the crushing heartbreak of young love, an album about the inequities of the American dream, but also one that, like Springsteen’s best, finds hope within the darkness in the end. Battle Born is the kind of rock ‘n’ roll record that almost nobody makes anymore: it’s bombastic and excessive and oversized, but it’s also a grand and universal statement, a master class of album structure and sequencing, and a culmination of everything Brandon Flowers and The Killers have done up to this point. There will always be detractors, but to me, The Killers are the best band in the mainstream right now, and this record deserves to be celebrated. Just make sure you play it loud.

9/10
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 139
10:25 PM on 09/17/12
#2
The PF rules
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Album highlights for me: Runaways, The Way It Was, Here With Me, From Here On Out

Album Sounds like Bruce, U2, Meatloaf, and George Harrison mixed in a blender.
04:37 AM on 09/18/12
#3
brentstailing
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Very, very well written review.

Loving this album hard.
04:38 AM on 09/18/12
#4
vivatoto56
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Fantastic review. You are quickly becoming one of my favorite reviewers.
05:45 AM on 09/18/12
#5
iseeumonkey
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While I enjoyed this album the first few listens through, I'm quickly losing interest in it. I was expecting it to be more like Sam's Town than it was. In my honest opinion, Sam's Town is still their best album
05:56 AM on 09/18/12
#6
OdourlessHobo
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my current album of the year. Brandon Flowers is a hell of a vocalist and i'm loving the consistent sound all throughout this album. Flesh and Bone, Runaways, Miss Atomic Bomb and the title track are stellar.
06:16 AM on 09/18/12
#7
LGFUAD21
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NEED TO GET THIS. I have a feeling this album will be good. This review only strengthens said feelings.
06:16 AM on 09/18/12
#8
LGFUAD21
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While I enjoyed this album the first few listens through, I'm quickly losing interest in it. I was expecting it to be more like Sam's Town than it was. In my honest opinion, Sam's Town is still their best album
YES.

Know so many people that complained because it wasnt trendy like Hot Fuss. I like Hot Fuss but Sam's Town is where they honed their skills
07:07 AM on 09/18/12
#9
TheModernAge
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Such a bland album. It's not horrible, it's just not very good either.
07:08 AM on 09/18/12
Craig Manning
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Very, very well written review.

Loving this album hard.

Thanks man. Right there with you.

Fantastic review. You are quickly becoming one of my favorite reviewers.

That's the goal! Thanks brother, I appreciate it.

While I enjoyed this album the first few listens through, I'm quickly losing interest in it. I was expecting it to be more like Sam's Town than it was. In my honest opinion, Sam's Town is still their best album

If you had asked me a week ago, I would have been inclined to agree with you. But Sam's Town, as much as I've always loved it, has a few songs that I don't really like ("Uncle Jonny," "Bones") and an overall structure which pales in comparison to this one. There are more great songs here, even if the highlights might not be quite as sky high as "Read My Mind" and "Why Do I Keep Counting."

my current album of the year. Brandon Flowers is a hell of a vocalist and i'm loving the consistent sound all throughout this album. Flesh and Bone, Runaways, Miss Atomic Bomb and the title track are stellar.

I don't know where it will land on my list. Thinking top 3 right now.

NEED TO GET THIS. I have a feeling this album will be good. This review only strengthens said feelings.

Grab it. The best release on a terrific day of releases.
07:27 AM on 09/18/12
AlexWithaC
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Very, very well written review.

Absolutely. Haven't heard this album yet, so I hope it is as tight as this review.
07:58 AM on 09/18/12
Spencer Control
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Really great review. I had lost interest in this album but now I think I'll give it a spin.
08:37 AM on 09/18/12
Blake Solomon
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my desk partner at work is a huge killers fan. i, well, am not. i always give their records at least one listen, and we are doing that now. im already feeling bloated.
09:09 AM on 09/18/12
Dodge725
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Loving this album. Runaways is one of my favorite songs by them and Battle Born, The Rising Tide, Miss Atomic Bomb and A Matter of Time are the definite highlights. Probably second in my book behind Sam's Town.

Edit: And I'd highly suggest the Deluxe Edition because the extra songs (Carry Me Home, Flesh and Bone Remix, and Prize Fighter) are also fantastic.
09:35 AM on 09/18/12
cubsml34
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I'll have to give this another listen, I couldn't get through the first listen I thought it was so boring.

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