I started listening to The Killers just after Sam’s Town came out, and in a backward way it was that album that got me listening to classic Springsteen. That’s because The Killers try for something that’s quickly becoming antiquated, and that’s classic American rock. Now, I’m not going to make the case that The Killers are a true reincarnation of The Boss, but I think it’s fair to say that they’re his son. The music is reminiscent of late 70s love songs, ballads filled with angst, and that forlorn need to runaway that all Americans feel sometime better 9th grade and age 30.
While Battle Born lacks the stadium ballads found on Day & Age and Sam’s Town, it does have a matured sensibility that I think I’ve fallen in love with. Like I said, The Killers aren’t Springsteen. National anthems like Born to Run come from a time when America was industrial and not technological, before landlines were replaced with Wi-Fi.
I think that Battle Born is representative of that, of the shift in angst from then to now. Bruce Springsteen’s voice is gruff, like a proud declaration set to a confident melody. Brandon Flowers sounds like he’s pleading, constantly, like he’s at the listener’s mercy. Where Springsteen sings about a harder, more hopeless landscape, Flowers’s desperation comes from an indifference fulled by affluence. Somehow, still, both songwriters evoke the same emotion: American angst. But maybe I’m listening to it all wrong.
My favorite track from Battle Born is “Runaways.” In fact, I think it’s the song that best represents everything I’m trying to get at. It’s filled with a defiant hopelessness that’s at once fought against and yielded to. It’s that depression with no origin, the kind that’s freeing to accept.
Call me a Romantic. Sure, there’s plenty of earnest lyrics and and over-the-top guitars for jaded hipsters to scoff at in every Killers record, and maybe it takes a certain suspension of disbelief to fully enjoy, but it’s difficult to listen to “Runaways” without rolling the windows down and singing along.
Battle Born is also an exercise in rock subtlety. The second to last track, “Be Still,” finds Flowers floating in bard’s territory.
Wild and young
Long may your innocence reign
Like shells on the shore
And may your limits be unknown
And may your efforts be your own
Yeah, I know the rhyme scheme is basic and I know it’s not overly clever, but it has so much damn heart. It’s something that we all connect with, at least I hope we do. It stirs in me the same sense of adventure as Witman’s America. And maybe, when I look at it like that, the way I feel when listening to The Killers and the way I feel when listening to Springsteen makes more sense. Their working towards a youthful recklessness, a savage nobleness, and maybe even a naive patriotism. I hope that’s what my generation is, in the end, something “strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love.”
Go buy Battle Born, listen to it with the windows down and, if you have them, a good pair of sunglasses on.