The Killers Imploding the Mirage
Part of being a Las Vegan of a certain age (and a certain scene) is describing your relationship to The Killers. In brief: I met the band’s future drummer Ronnie Vannucci in the mid-1990s, while he was playing with sunny ska band Attaboy Skip. In April 2004, two years after I’d moved to Seattle, I saw the recently formed Killers perform onstage at that city’s Crocodile Cafe. They played a tight, nervy, eight-song set that included “Mr. Brightside,” “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll” and a Morrissey cover, “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself.” The house sound system blew out seconds into “Somebody Told Me,” but they didn’t lose a step; after a quick Q&A with the crowd—maybe 40 bodies strong at that point—they tore right back into the song, unabashed.
I lived in Seattle for seven more years after that, during which time The Killers became the biggest band in the known world. I talked up their albums to Seattle friends out of a surfeit of hometown pride, but I confess I didn’t listen to the records too often myself. They were a band that I respected more than I enjoyed; there was something in their soaring, immaculately executed anthemic rock that I couldn’t take in more than a little at a time. (But I did get a great deal of mileage, literal and figurative, from “Human” and “Read My Mind,” which—and I say this with genuine respect—are excellent for treadmill runs).
When I returned to Las Vegas in 2012, The Killers had moved past stardom into something approximating landmark status. It was enough to gaze admiringly upward at the monument they’d made, thumbs hooked contently in our belt loops, nodding and saying to visitors, “Yessir, biggest in the world. Grown right here in Vegas.”
Which brings us to The Killers’ new album, Imploding the Mirage, produced by the band (minus founding guitarist Dave Keuning, who remains on hiatus) in collaboration with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado and Haim/Vampire Weekend producer Shawn Everett—as perfect a pop-rock cocktail as you can hope to enjoy in these dark times, and the first Killers record I’ve enjoyed end to end since 2006’s Sam’s Town. In Mirage’s most thrilling moments, you can hear all three ages of The Killers—the living monument, the nonstop touring band that couldn’t help but lose members to exhaustion and the fearless outfit that powered its way right through a blackout—moving together in perfect sync. It’s an equivalence that Brandon Flowers himself describes on one of the record’s best tracks, “Running Towards a Place”: “We are running towards a place/where we’ll walk as one.”
Nearly every one of the 10 tracks on Imploding the Mirage overflows with confidence and ardor, at a time when this city—this country, this world—could use both. Leadoff single “Caution” isn’t about practicing it, but throwing it to the wind: “’Cause it’s some kinda sin/To live your whole life/on a might’ve been/I’m ready now,” Flowers sings, handing the baton to Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham for a careening solo. (Imploding the Mirage is loaded with guest players including Weyes Blood, The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel and k.d. lang, but their contributions don’t distract; they just add splashes of color to the band’s tuneful momentum.) “My Own Soul’s Warning” comes on as broad and mysterious as U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” but quickly turns personal, asking itself what really matters: “What kind of words would cut through the clutter of the whirlwind of these days?”
There was no way Flowers, Vannucci and Mark Stoermer could’ve known what kind of mess their hometown would be in when they began making this record. We’re half-closed, out of work, out of luck; while the Mirage still stands, the shimmering dream of this city is collapsing upon itself. But that’s a part of making this town your home: you always feel its ups and downs, even when you’ve packed your traps and moved away—as The Killers have done, as I did years ago. And you declare your belief in that vision, as Flowers does in the reverberating New Wave ballad “When the Dream Runs Dry”: “I will be where I always was,” Flowers sings, “standing at your side.”
That’s the kind of Valley spirit that keeps Las Vegas glued together, and that once encouraged me to walk around Seattle—home of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and other ultra-mega, world-conquering bands—confidently saying, “You really oughta listen to The Killers.”