Review: The Killers – ‘Hot Fuss’ (Nine Years On)

June 18, 2013 1:37 pm

The turn of the twenty-first century saw a boom in alternative rock culture; bands like The Hives and New York’s finest, The Strokes, were starting out strong and building an army of Converse that took their pet ‘indie’ kids everywhere with them. A whole new sub-culture was born, albeit a post-grunge pastiche, and with it came a plethora of gimmicky ‘guitar bands’ that have long since had the finger wagged in their face and the boot back to their bedrooms. Fortunately, not all of these hopefuls jumped on the same bandwagon, and The Killers were one of them. Adopting the brit-pop/rock sensibilities of Oasis, along with a sprinkling of New Order synths and lashings of Robert Smith vocalisms, nine years ago to the day the Las Vegas quartet unleashed Hot Fuss.

Whilst it’s not perfectly rounded or produced, it’s obvious that it was never supposed to be. Themes of murder, ‘love’ and every other aspect of the seediness of Vegas set Brandon Flowers and co. apart from their peers, and the album’s grit erodes not only Flowers’s vocals, but the demeanour of the whole record. Hot Fuss takes on a drunken, murderous and jealous life of its own and, almost a decade on, its hangover shows no signs of disappearing – and it’s all the better for it.

The longevity of The Killers’s debut is also a testament to its premature bombardment of huge hit singles; ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ make up four of the album’s five opening tracks. Importantly, each one sticks to the sinister blueprints set out by the perfectly-paced opener ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’, but each one sounds entirely different. ‘Mr Brightside’ is a classic; its drunkard-uniting bang of a chorus and its now-legendary guitar riff (courtesy of Dave Keuning) could have ignited any stadium even upon its release, whilst ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ does a similar job except with a haunting mid-tempo synth hook and a suggestive bassline over lyrics such as, “save some face / you know you’ve only got one”.

‘Somebody Told Me’, along with second-half highlight ‘Midnight Show’ opt for immediacy and mayhem over structure. The former tells of a nightclub predator, “breaking my back just to know your name” and this UK lead single ditches the keyboards for a fuller rock feel that is dominated by drummer Vannucci’s cymbals. ‘Midnight Show’ has a similar sound, however the brooding synths of  ‘Jenny’ and ‘Smile’ return here, partnered with a brief spiralling guitar solo that foreshadows the taking of, “my baby’s breath beneath the chandelier of stars and atmosphere”.

‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ is probably the most uplifting track on the album; for that reason it’s a rarity, but also because it’s a rock anthem among other four-minute barrages. Not only does this song beg for a live audience to sing along to its refrain of, “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier”, but its gliding bass and non-claustrophobic vocals aim higher than Flowers can raise his microphone stand when the band performs this live. A lot higher. Like stadium/arena ceiling high.

‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’ (on the UK release) is an ironic and fluctuating memo from Flowers to his ‘indie’ peers; a song that twists and turns through being a loud-mouthed jester and a genuine, slow soft-rock ballad. It also opens up the second half of Hot Fuss which – if you can’t appreciate the tenderness of ‘Believe Me Natalie’, the exhausted ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ or the unorthodox lyricism of ‘Andy, You’re A Star’ – will be a disappointing stretch.

The Killers have come a long way, both physically and musically, since 2004. In fact, in two weeks’ time I’m off to see them headline their biggest show ever at London’s Wembley Stadium as they tour for Battle BornHot Fuss however, for me at least, still stands as the band’s best work. That’s not to say their music’s consistency has floundered, because it hasn’t. What this record does that even many concept albums don’t manage to do is become its own entity. The psychotic and dangerous feel of its almost every aspect is such that the crazy and morbid stories that the individual songs tell become not only bearable, but invigorated. It’s ironic then that an album – a context dead to much of the music industry today – wallowing in demise can yet bring so much life to its contents.


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