Look at rock ‘n’ roll’s most enduring acts, and their careers fit a general arc of shared milestones. There’s the breakout hit record, some creative soul-searching, and perhaps a pivot from guitars to keyboards. Eventually, bands arrive at their resting-on-their-laurels phase, which may include greatest hits collections or Christmas albums, along with some aging-rocker grumbling about how their chosen genre just isn’t the same as in the good ol’ days.
For an arc that normally stretches over artists’ entire lifetimes, The Killers have raced through this life cycle in just over a decade: breaking out with their stratospheric debut Hot Fuss in 2004, cycling through an ‘80s phase and a hiatus before releasing their greatest hits album in 2013, the band’s members eventually splitto embark on solo projects.
As if to further prove this point, the Killers’ fifth album Wonderful Wonderful (out Friday), their first studio release in five years, sounds like the kind of “getting the band back together” record that a band of 60-year-old rockers make, offering not much new musically except for some cheeky self-reflection, while outwardly puzzling about the state of rock ‘n’ roll today.
The majority of Wonderful Wonderful consists of the arena-ready synth rock the Killers can churn out in their sleep, swinging between their two modes of “U2 karaoke” and “John Hughes soundtrack.” Brandon Flowers is as reliable a frontman as ever, particularly on the album’s strong first half, delivering anthems like Rut and Life to Come — though he’s less compelling when he’s talk-singing through songs like Run for Cover and The Calling.
Then, there’s The Man, a standout track on the album, and the song that many listeners will likely remember Wonderful Wonderful by in the years to come. The goofily strutting lead single is bursting with put-on bravado, meant to parody the band’s glory days. Or, according to album notes Island Records shared with critics, the song is a “tongue-in-cheek look back on his younger self, the ‘Brandon Flowers’ persona from Hot Fuss, and reconciles that wide-eyed, success-dazzled character with the man he is now.”
So, who is Brandon Flowers now? It’s hard to tell from Wonderful Wonderful, an album of impressionistic storytelling that’s too blurry to connect on an emotional level….