For a band clearly in flux 'Wonderful Wonderful' is a staggering achievement of cohesion and inspiration
Steven Kline

20:21 27th September 2017

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‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ screams The Killers’ new album title but, like Boris Johnson fwaffing and bwaffing about great leaps forward on his way out of a shitshow of a Brexit policy meeting, all appearances suggest otherwise. Only two of The Killers now play live regularly, and while bassist Mark Stoermer has contributed extensively to this fifth album and made it along to the desert photo shoot for the lyric booklet, guitarist Dave Koening neither appears in the sleeve photos nor much in the song-writing credits – only ‘Rut’ bears his name. Which poses the question: what kind of band are The Killers in 2017? A new evolution of remote-working Skype’n’roll, or a mere vehicle for singer Brandon Flowers’ prolific work ethic and increasingly personal music therapy? Does the cover shot represent (as Flowers attests) the support of an intangible God, or that he’s holding up a shell of a band?

The Killers are clearly a band in flux, finding news ways of working and touring together (apart), and in that context ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is a staggering achievement of cohesion and inspiration. It helps that they had one producer throughout in Jacknife Lee – fourth album ‘Battle Born’ cobbled together five, and suffered from a hefty case of ‘who’s fucking broth is this anyway?’ as a result. But with disparate band members contributing to writing and recording whenever they happened to be in town, it’s a miracle The Killers emerged with an opening as leftfield, dark and audacious as the title track – basically Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ with early 80s Peter Gabriel on voodoo vibes – ear-nailing synthrock smashes like ‘Run For Cover’ and ‘Tyson Vs Douglas’ (about the fear of giants falling, both in boxing and glitzy Vegas indie rock) or a disco strut like ‘The Man’, on which Flowers’ groin enters the room several minutes before he does.

The lynchpin that keeps ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ together is Brandon’s sheer faith – in his band, in his songs, in his family and in his God. The title track has him using Biblical language to sound like the Good Lord is singing the chorus, offering his wife Tana (the ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ of the title and the “motherless child… dancing for rain” in the lyric) unending support through a tough childhood. Tana’s issues with PTSD drive much of the album’s emotional thrust: the stirring ‘Rut’ describes her darkness rising and drive-time ballad ‘Life To Come’ is Brandon’s pledge to be there in this life and the next. “Have a little faith in me girl,” he sings with a reassuring grin, “just dropkick the shame”.

Brandon’s soul-bearing ownership of the album (he even has Woody Harrelson reading from the Bible as intro to ‘The Calling’, a roadhouse noir yarn about a young man out to preach his dad back to health, ferchrissake) gives it a meat and substance that was lacking from ‘Day & Age’ and ‘Battle Born’, even as The Killers’ dependence on the slick, sparkling 1980s soft rock aesthetic of The Cars, Don Henley and ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’ settles in to smooth over a song-writing lull in the album’s second half. Brian Eno co-wrote ‘Some Kind Of Love’, but its ethereal atmospherics can’t disguise a tune barely worthy of a Phil Collins solo album. And the closing ‘Have All The Songs Been Written?’ – featuring, as if we don’t get the point, guitar licks from Mark Knopfler – is certainly a convincing treatise on writer’s block, as it struggles to scrape together half a teaspoon of by-numbers Killers climax.

So sure, ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is further evidence that The Killers have surrendered to MOR, but it’s far from being meaningless marshmallow for the ears. There’s real passion, pain, heart and heft in here and, for that, it’s at least brushed by wonder.

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