An album that deserves every bit of hype it was given when it arrived, only if you follow these two simple steps:
1. Stop the album immediately after “All These Things That I’ve Done.”
2. Don’t pay attention to the lyrics.
Now, on the second point, understandably, there are a handful of listeners who take the “I don’t listen to lyrics” route, but when we’re dealing with Brandon Flowers, it’s too noticeable not to talk about. Case in point: “Somebody told me that you have a boyfriend / Who looked like a girlfriend / That I had in February of last year” makes zero sense, taking a page out of Blur’s “Girls & Boys” without the social commentary to back it up. “Who looked like a girlfriend” would have made much more sense as “Who looks like a girlfriend / That I had in February of last year,” because now it looks like we’re treading sex change waters (not that getting a sex change is at all a bad thing; it’s just that I doubt that’s what Orlando Bloom–er–Brandon Flowers had in mind). Then, of all things, Flowers follows it up with an equally meaningless rhyme, “It’s not confidential, I’ve got potential.” Way to slam two lines that make sense separately but are meaningless together. All this without mentioning the “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” mantra, after everything quiets down and there’s nothing else to hear except for the rhythm section. That line makes just about as much sense as “I’ve got a bowl, but I’m not a boulder,” though I will say that I was quite impressed as a jubilant high schooler. Listening to it now, the genius of which I had once thought of it no longer exists. I just see a line desperate for attention that thinks its smart.
I don’t want to dwell too much on this matter, since around 2004, Pitchfork hadn’t really gotten around to being the world’s most hated publication and were much more narrow-minded, which is probably why Hot Fuss has the lowest rating of all the Killers’ albums (including the compilation, Sawdust. This, worse than Sawdust? A Christmas-y laugh escapes my lips. Then I realize you’re serious. I laugh uncontrollably for what seems like a full minute. My abs get the hardest workout they’ve ever had. My face turns red as I struggle to breathe. This, worse than Day & Age? You’re killing me here). My point is; don’t read too much into Johnny Loftus’ review of Hot Fuss. It seems too concerned with the fact that the Killers is the second wave of “The” bands (The Hives, the Strokes, the Vines, the White Stripes) instead of talking about the actual music, “Somebody Told Me”‘s […] a brazen rewrite of The Strokes’ treble-kick heroics. Yes, Casablancas, et al ripped off pieces of their sound, too, but that’s the difference– they already did the ripping. The Killers’ recombination arrives too late to be recognized as first-tier thievery. At this point, Hot Fuss is just bringing it from what’s already been brought.
Yes, the Killers are a bit late to the revival game, but they’re not reviving the garage rock genre as those other bands I’ve listed. Like Interpol, they’re simply taking the garage rock aesthetic and throwing it on top of another sound. What is that sound, you ask? allmusic’s MacKenzie Wilson mentions key synth-pop bands from the 80’s, including Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and the Cure, but other than the outro of “Believe Me Natalie” (truthfully, the only good part of a 5-minute song. Elsewhere, there are some trumpets), I don’t see it. I hear a collection of 80’s U2 songs, with a cover of New Order’s “Ceremony” thrown in. But the key difference between Bono and Brandon Flowers, besides Bono’s lack of a last name, is he’s got a much wider range than Flowers does. Flowers’ voice moves just as much as his contemporaries did; Paul Banks gets slammed for sounding like Ian Curtis and Julian Casablancas gets a pass for the pure sex appeal. What does Flowers have? A goddamn moustache like everyday is March? Ugh. Listen to the first few lines of “Smile Like You Mean It” for a better example: in the hands of another, more competent vocalist, that last inflection would have been brought out more to give the line more melody. Here, it sounds like Flowers is already straining to hit that high. Same goes for “You can keep a secret” on “Midnight Show.” There are melodies, and there are melodies. This is neither.*
But, I will give Flowers credit because credit is due. His voice might not move very much, but he’s definitely got Bono’s bombast, which makes most (all?) of these hooks work, “Oh, come on, oh, come on, oh, come on”, “Jenny was a friend of mine”, “Smile like you mean it…”, “Everything will be alright” (the only worthwhile thing about the way-too-long closer with needlessly treated vocals), the whole boyfriend/girlfriend nonsense and most impressively, the entirety of “Mr. Brightside.” In case you were wondering what I meant by a “cover of New Order’s ‘Ceremony,'” look no further than Mr. Brightside.” Musically, the track follows the same setup, a (great) bassline, enter drums with vocals, enter guitar (“Ceremony” follows a slightly different order). I’d be joking everyone if I told you that the Killers’ rhythm section was half of that of New Order (compare the drumming to see what I mean), but Brandon Flowers picks up the slack, definitely a more confident vocalist then Sumner was at the time. It also helps that everything Flowers sings is a hook.
Finally, “All These Things That I’ve Done” is pretty glorious, taking a page right out of “Where the Streets Have No Name” (especially the stupid live version found on Rattle & Hum thanks to the gospel vocals, but this one does them so much better). Because the Killers don’t have Eno for atmosphere, they duplicate it themselves with a sea(sound)scape of a lone, repeated key (seriously, throw in an atonal note every now and then, and we’d have “Runaway,” ladies and gentlemen). Like “Mr. Brightside” before it, everything (including the mindless mantra) is catchy. The first verse benefits from some repeated lines, “If you can’t hold on, hold on” and “You know, you know” answered by “No, you don’t, you don’t.” Flowers is genuinely (and this is the only time ever on the album) interesting on the microphone, thanks to certain inflections; he’s really selling it to us, “My affection, well, it comes and goes / I need direction to perfection nononono / Help me out.” Oh, and Flowers, I know you think that soul/soldier line is clever, but really, “Another head aches, another heart breaks” might be your best moment (ever).