Has anyone ever noticed that the people saying that “rock is dead” are the ones who are least affected by it? Gene Simmons would slap the KISS logo on his own mother if he was told it could make a profit, and no one’s really championing Kasabian as saviours of the genre, are they? Well, now you can add Brandon Flowers to that list, with The Killers’ frontman saying that bands need to write better songs, and how “the sexy side of rock ‘n’ roll has been handed over to rap and hip-hop”. So putting aside what a man who has been trying to become Bono for his entire career would know about sex appeal, one would reasonably expect that The Killers would be trying to recapture that spark that rock ‘n’ roll has apparently lost, and that Wonderful Wonderful would be what puts the genre back on track, right?
Well, obviously it doesn’t. The Killers don’t care about revitalising rock music; they’ve already made their way now, to where they can afford to deck out Wonderful Wonderful with the glossiest production money can buy, and still have enough left over to get Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler to contribute some blues guitar and Woody Harrelson to read a largely perfunctory monologue. Somewhat paradoxically, it’s perhaps the most predictable move The Killers could take, the indie A-listers trying to keep up with the times, and roping in some similarly famous friends for some wider recognition. That predictability also carries some stipulation towards the quality of the album too, and Wonderful Wonderful almost entirely lives up to that as a collection of stronger would-be singles padded out with songs that are desperately trying to reach the same height, but just can’t.
Also predictably, the best moments here come when The Killers sound the most like themselves. Run For Cover‘s bouncy synth work and punched-up hook make for the most immediately poppy and radio-friendly cut on the album, while Rut and Life To Come split the difference between new wave and heartland rock with the airy, sweeping keys that The Killers have always known how to work their way around. The one exception to this rule is The Man which swaggers along with an electro-disco strut that recalls both the Pet Shop Boys and The Bee Gees that actually has a bit of punch to it.
It definitely proves that Wonderful Wonderful is an album of two halves, the first seeing a band play to well-documented strengths and prospering for it, while the second is the same band trying out those similar impulses with results that begin to flag considerably. Just look at The Calling, which tries to recreate The Man‘s stomp only to end up with a gooey, gurgling synth and clanking beat that has no flow at all. Meanwhile, Some Kind Of Love is the whirling soft-rock snoozer that drifts by with a dull, glassy melody line, and closer Have All The Songs Been Written comes across as almost embarrassingly cheesy and self-indulgent, with Flowers trying his hardest to come across as sincere as possible while Knopfler sprinkles a few licks over some colourless fake strings that’s ultimately as lacklustre as it sounds.
In fact, Flowers’ presence is probably the main reason that Wonderful Wonderful doesn’t work as well as it should. Not the writing, mind, and while Flowers’ love of neon-dressed Americana and desert love stories frequently precedes him (it even becomes text on Out Of My Mind), having this as more of a meta-narrative makes for a greater inclusion of personal themes. There’s Flowers’ addressing of his wife’s PTSD on the title track and her attempts to cope on Rut, as well as his own struggles with religion on The Calling and his contemplation of a potential fall from grace on Tyson vs. Douglas. The issue comes in Flowers himself, specifically his delivery. He’s never been the most expressive vocalist, favouring a stately, part-post-punk, part-U2-style flattened vocal, but for the extent to which this album is driven by deeply personal emotions and soul-searching, the artifice piled on top of that undercuts so much of it. It leads to a point where the biggest driving force in terms of emotion is the more widescreen instrumentation, as well as where the alpha-male swagger of The Man seems completely literal.
And while that might be looking a bit too deeply, Wonderful Wonderful feels like such a clear series of missteps that that feels more obvious that it should. At the very least it continues The Killers’ steady stream of being a singles act, but that shouldn’t be any sort of justification for this album’s mediocrity. It’ll probably do its job and perform as well as The Killers are used to, but that doesn’t make it a success, or anything beyond a missed opportunity that could’ve been a lot better. Wonderful Wonderful? More like “average, average”.
For fans of: Pet Shop Boys, U2, Arcade Fire
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Wonderful Wonderful’ by The Killers is out now on Island Records.