The Killers – Pressure Machine
Only last year, The Killers released their sixth studio record, Imploding the Mirage, which never saw its tour. But instead of sitting back, the Vegas-born band created a concept album drawn straight from lead singer Brandon Flowers’s hometown of Nephi, Utah. This creation lends well to narratives, and to Flower’s masterful ability to magnify the intangible from a trace of a memory, crafting stories from which their music soars. The central theme was unintentional, however the artist found he was unable to withdraw from his return to the sensations of an outcast teenager. He kept certain literature close whilst writing, in particular, Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven, a collection of short stories stemming from the same valley in Monterey.
Pressure Machine is a more intimate version of The Killers than ever seen before, not so much tempered as ruminative and concentrated, and it sees the return of their guitarist, Dave Keuning. Rather than responding to a destabilising crisis with rage – which these blast heavy rockers could easily do – or a vein prognosis of a slippery future, the band have travelled to a very specific moment in time and dusted its corners for stories that have lingered – and those that were never quite finished. The tracks begin with candid snippets of conversation from actual dwellers of Nephi, sincerely tuning listeners into this context as involved but unknowing guests of its isolation, desperation, addiction and homely comforts.
The Killers have grown into arenas with their towering, triumphant anthems. The humble acoustic of Terrible Thing, in which a gay teenager contemplates suicide, though stirring, is wildly uncharacteristic. Cue the harmonica and they are unrecognisable. But with the lyrics, “The cards I was dealt get you thrown out of the game”, bordering perspectives of “barbed wire” around Nephi, the band’s traditions are contained. Quiet Town is at first glance inoffensive campfire nostalgia of guitar and harmonica, but the irony of its inspiration stings as it tells a story of a young couple Flowers knew when he was in eighth grade who were killed by a train.
A strong hook carries In Another Life through saddening odes that force listeners away from their dreams and desires. The Killers portray the idea of yearning incomparably well, and this track feels like lost time is being laid out for all to see. Desperate Thing is the most focused narrative: a cop falling for an abuse victim, and eventually murdering her husband. The song is a slow, stretching affair, packed with antagonistic emotions and reflective substance. The album ends with welcome offerings of optimism after a rough-edged trip, particularly in Getting By, with languid vocals and loving ambience, as the singer ponders, “The whole town is tied to the torso of God’s mysterious ways”.
As a band that has only expanded in sound, it is warming to catch them in a moment of grounding. It will be interesting to see how they weave this new sound into their traditional style; Pressure Machine might just be a catalyst for an abundance of possibilities. The Killers have never relied on their big guitar and grandeur to tell stories; Flowers’s lyricism alone poeticises the rawest of tales. This musing on the simple truths of people – often aided by merely a fiddle – proves they are authentic to their bones. The band is consistently rolling forwards and widening their reach. Even when closing in on the past for their narratives, their subtlety and blatant tragedy have remained strong.
Photo: Danny Clinch
Pressure Machine is released on 13th August 2021. For further information or to order the album visit The Killers website here.
Watch the video for the single My Own Soul’s Warning here: