Widgets Magazine

The Killers get serious on ‘Wonderful Wonderful’

The Killers in concert. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

When The Killers dropped their newest album “Wonderful Wonderful” this September, the world was excited. I was excited. It had been five full years since their last studio release, and Brandon Flowers was back with the band after a truncated solo career that had seen only limited success. Needless to say, expectations were high. The lead single “The Man” had been released months earlier, teasing fans and hinting at the direction of the new album. But come September and the first taste of “Wonderful Wonderful,” and the album is nothing like what we expected. With a polar change in sound and lyrical content, it places The Killers in a whole new ballpark of maturity and musical clarity.

When you first hit play on the album, you’re met with the sound of a horn, followed by distant drums – it sounds eerily like the music from some kind of psychedelic late night television show with bizarre lights fading in and out. What happened to The Killers’ distinctive sound, the instantly recognizable, pounding synth heartbeat that defined the band’s earlier records? The album’s title track “Wonderful Wonderful” continues down this esoteric path, with a bass line of alternating octaves descending into a soulful ballad to open up the album. “Run For Cover,” another single, offers no further explanation for the change and is the only song in the new album that even slightly resembles their earlier songs. Have The Killers found a new direction, or is this madness?

Flash backward in time, to the year 2004 when The Killers debuted to the world with “Hot Fuss.” The collection of fast-paced, sing-along music brought immediate attention to the Las Vegas band, which skyrocketed into international fame. The music was upbeat and sounded good loud, and the band made their mark as a group of young, arrogant souls out to conquer the world. And in some ways, they did – after all, 13 years after their release, smash hits like “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” still reign as immortal gems to be sung along with for the rest of musical eternity.

So what happened in 2017? “Wonderful Wonderful” has received mixed critical attention, with Rolling Stone Magazine saying they’re “cockier than ever” – on a positive album review – and other reviewers simply stating that The Killers are trying desperately to recreate the showstoppers of their past. Are they? To some ears, the album might sound like nothing more than a haphazard mélange of sound, as if the artists couldn’t decide on a musical style.


But these reviewers are thoroughly missing the point if they’d expected the now 13-year-old band with a 36-year-old lead singer to put out another young-gun album like “Hot Fuss.” True, some bands manage to continue for ages without major stylistic changes or experiments, and it works for them. But The Killers aren’t one of those bands. Their feel-good music enraptured adolescent audiences by shifting focus away from everyday worries, liberating listeners to just jam along. Inevitably, it was only a matter of years before their style of music would begin to sound strained and pathetic.

In reality, where this new album truly shines is in displaying the growth and sophistication of The Killers’ musicianship, with intimate glimpses into Flowers’s life. Taken as a whole, it is an introspective, ambient album – not a collection of crowd-pleasers for angsty teens to sing along to, but a set of thoughtful pieces giving the listener more to think about than their older songs. The new sound of the band is more laid-back, more Pink Floyd-esque, as they turn to synth electro-orchestral harmonies laced with drum machine beats and high, airy falsetto.

Like many bands, The Killers have gone through several crises since their initial formation, resulting in an unpredictable, nonlinear trajectory of their musical careers. As Flowers told Q Magazine, the combined effect of internal issues of the band and his wife’s struggles with PTSD seriously hindered the band’s progress, leaving them unable to put out music for the past half decade.

“Wonderful Wonderful” is Brandon Flowers’ attempt to reconcile his career with finding direction in his personal life. It is The Killers’ most lyrically rich album and their closest brush with reality, as Flowers sings the album’s title track to cope with his wife’s depression, telling her “keep your ear to the shell, stay on the path that leads to the well” (a metaphorical well representing liberation from the emotional “drought” of depression). His deep sorry and regret are exceedingly clear in songs like “Rut” and “Have All the Songs Been Written?” Perhaps the most powerful song in the set is “Some Kind of Love” – it ends with Flowers and his children pleading together for their wife and mother to come back to them as they sing, “can’t do this alone, we need you at home.”

If you listen closely, you might hear some subtle posthumous references to the late Flowers persona. With “Hot Fuss,” his image was rebellious and witty, without the real plagues of adulthood. With “Wonderful Wonderful,” he flashes back to younger days almost as a plea for a different life – for happiness and a way out of the confusion of his life.

So maybe The Killers are no longer young, edgy and out-to-get-‘em. Beyond a doubt, the time has passed when they can justify singing unabashedly and fighting against norms to appeal to the adolescent populace. However, “Wonderful Wonderful” is a beautifully delivered attempt at reconciling the dichotomy of the “Mr. Brightside” persona with the brute reality of the year 2017. Without stumbling into silly self-deprecation by attempting (and probably failing) to recreate an album of old-style bangers, The Killers have reimagined their style and produced a tragic but wonderful set of music that, indeed, has far surpassed our wildest expectations.

Notable tracks: “Some Kind of Love,” “Rut” and “Tyson vs. Douglas”


Contact Kendrick Shen at kshen6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.