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The Killer Inside

 

The Killers: Sam's Town

Island, 2006

Rating: 2.6

 

Posted: December 1, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

It probably wouldn't have been a bad idea for Las Vegas' celebrated New Wave synth-pop revivalists the Killers to jump all the way off the cliff and record a giant, sweeping, meaty arena-rock record. After all, the '80s influences that informed their multimillion-selling 2004 debut Hot Fuss can only take you so far. And if you're not going to go for subtlety anyway, there are worse muses than Bono, Bruce Springsteen or even Meat Loaf -- all of whose influences can be heard on "When You Were Young," the derivative but stirring leadoff single from the band's sophomore effort, Sam's Town.

But the album that "When You Were Young" promises is not the album the Killers deliver: Sam's Town sounds like nothing so much as a young band playing dress-up, trying its predecessors' clothes on for size and finding them an ill fit (if you didn't know better, you'd think the ridiculous back-cover band photo by Anton Corbijn was a parody of U2's Joshua Tree-era pomposity, and not an emulation of it).

A couple of songs here succeed as lightweight pop on the order of Hot Fuss-- notably "Bones" (which actually makes decent use of a horn section) and "Read My Mind" -- although "For Reasons Unknown," a contender in this category, is ultimately weighted down by a chorus that unfortunately recalls Missing Persons' Dale Bozzio. But other exercises suffer from a crippling lack of restraint. "Bling (Confession of a King)" -- yes, that's really the title -- flops awkwardly around in the limbo between Springsteen's lyrical terrain ("I'm pushing on for that horizon ... the wind blowing against my face") and the crumbly footing of vague, melodramatic teen journal entries ("When I offer you survival / You say it's hard enough to live").

"This River is Wild," which is slightly more forthright about its grandiloquent ambitions, is full of hills burning, clouds falling from the sky and indefensibly self-important quasi-prog-rock gobbledygook like "Now Adam's taking bombs / And he's stuck on his mom / Because that bitch keeps trying to make him pray / He's met the hippie in the park / Comin' over the dark / Just trying to get some of that little girl play." (If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, indeed.) And then there's "Uncle Jonny," a particularly ill-advised attempt at a Springsteenian character sketch.

There's no shame in reaching for something new, as long as you have some idea that you're capable of making the stretch. On Sam's Town, the Killers' reach -- exemplified by "When You Were Young" -- far exceeds their grasp. But even after suffering through the affected "Enterlude" and "Exitlude" that serve as bookends to the album, you can't fault them too much; ultimately, they don't come across as unbearably pretentious so much as just really, really misguided.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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