Las Vegas numbed me. The one time I visited–for a bachelor party, what else?–the atmosphere everywhere was haunted by pure desperation and horniness. It slid out of the slot machines, where patrons ignored dick-shaped levers and just pushed buttons; it hung thick in the eyes of the drunk and the busted, usually one and the same; and it stuttered in the blinking lights and clanging video game noise that make an infinite daytime of those windowless casinos. Based on that experience, I can conclude that The Killers only occasionally sound like their home base of Las Vegas.
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A stiff-upper-lipped “No thank you!” is how I greeted “Somebody Told Me,” The Killers’ debut single, when it arrived in 2004. It was synthy and poppy and sounded like something I was about to hear all the goddamn time. Which it was. But then came “Mr. Brightside,” the second single that re-contextualized the first. When I finally waded into the album that contained both songs–the quintuple-platinum Hot Fuss–I went all in. There was the broody/bratty “Smile Like You Mean It,” the heightened grandeur of “All These Things That I’ve Done,” and deep cuts that really cut. It was almost a clean-the-house straight listen all the way through. But I generally didn’t listen at home. Hot Fuss became the anthemic neo-New Wave soundtrack to my post-college move from Orlando to New York–a moment that was bursting with pure desperation and horniness. The more I listened, the more I felt instant nostalgia, mixed with what-happens-here-stays-here ephemerality.
The Killers’ Las Vegasness eluded me at first. Inexplicably Mormon lead singer Brandon Flowers would throw shade at similar-sounding bands like The Bravery in a way that sort of recalled a savage casino fight on top of colorful carpet emblazoned with card suits, but that was maybe a stretch. It wasn’t until the band definitively disowned their previous sound, on a sophomore album ironically named after a hotel in Vegas, that the 80s excess of their debut scanned as more representative geographically. The song title, “Bling (Confessions Of a King),” from Sam’s Town, is as embarrassing as anything you’ll find in the great embarrassment-filled state of Nevada. That’s just science. However, the soaring Americana of that album is more evocative of Springsteen’s Jersey than the playground of Sinatra.
Sam’s Town was a hard left turn out of a regretful desert sex hotel and into a road trip to find yourself (if yourself sounds like Bono a whole lot.) It smacked of identity crisis, but it was also a legacy-cementing hit that has aged remarkably well. It was with the next album, though, that the band went full-blown Vegas. The lead single, “Human” sounds like a Bowie-aping space-laser reflected off of Duran Duran’s most cherished coke mirror. The hair-pullingly shitty chorus question, “Are we human or are we dancer?” is a malignant interpretation of a Hunter S. Thompson quote. And the crushing overload of conflicting musical styles mimics the feeling of being up for the 49th consecutive hour and feeling suffocated by your surroundings. And numb. Nothing makes more sense than that the band went on hiatus after this album.
Las Vegas is where musicians go to ride out their legacy. Britney Spears. Celine Dion. Rod Stewart. The Killers may not be there yet, but judging by how well the old songs have aged and how their 2012 reunion LP sort of just existed, the desert awaits.