Back in 2004 The Killers were riding a wave, propelled into the mainstream on the back of some energetic synth-pop songs that surfed the fault lines between ’80s new wave influences (New Order, Duran Duran) and the anthemic singalong popularised in the mid-90s (Shed Seven?). Indeed songs like ‘Mr Brightside‘, ‘Somebody Told Me‘, ‘When We Were Young‘ et al possessed a swaggering self-confidence from Brandon Flowers and co, which despite their lyrical weaknesses allowed their debut album Hot Fuss to be somehow endearing. Since then The Killers have plundered MOR of the 1970s and 1980s with more tedious results, overblown follow up Sam’s Town was a regressive rush towards desperate US stadium rock, while 2008’s Day and Age was a tick-box exercise in style over substance synth-pop references; 2012’s Battle Born was plodding syrupy MOR that yielded even more tedious results. Each record has showcased a band in the midst of writer’s block and revealing themselves to be magpies grasping for anything shiny from their record collections.
It is perhaps a little surprising – given that Flowers’s 2015 solo album had some choice moments of quality pop music, treating his influences with a playfulness – that back in his day job after seven years, Wonderful, Wonderful is a billowy, vacuous, hideously overproduced long-player that takes itself way too seriously. Indebted to a sound somewhere between the pomp era of U2 and more over the top ’80s synth-pop songs, at times it even sounds like a bad Deacon Blue tribute act. Tears for Fears and Talk Talk proved consistently that synth-pop textures could be stretched and manipulated to affecting pop peaks, yet virtually every note here is xeroxed and vacuum packed to within an inch of its life as to become utterly forgettable and even worse riddled with predictable musical and lyrical cliches.
Opener and title track with its ludicrous guitars, clumping percussion, string stings and soaring harmonics, sounds like an off cut from a recent Arcade Fire recording session, and that is not a compliment. ‘The Rut‘ sounds like a bad U2 b-side from their Joshua Tree era, lost in the desert in search of a meaning. While Brandon claims that lead single ‘The Man‘ is about rebuking the arrogance of his former self, ironically it comes off as just as arrogant, pumped up and smug. The jock strutting, towel snappingly ridiculous chorus line, bounding disco beat, falsetto straddling vocals and posturing lyrics (“I know the score like the back of my hand“) ends up sounding more like a chest-beating assertion of masculinity than a self-aware, critique of himself. While its ‘funky’ production from the erstwhile Erol Alkan is well put together they clearly think its aping towards the work of ‘Fame‘ era Bowie or Peter Gabriel‘s ‘Sledgehammer‘ but ends up sounding as repugnant as Maroon 5‘s pop moments.
“Have a Little Faith in me girl/Dropkick the shame” sings Flower’s hilariously on the pompy choruses of ‘Life to Come’ that mounts up another U2 chorus for an assault on the charts. ‘Run for Cover’ sounds like a homage to Bruce Springsteen‘s most commercial era but lacks his ability to offset the bombast with insight and exhilarating hooks, Flowers recalling the quickfire stream of consciousness singalong style he popularised on ‘Mr Brightside‘; this upbeat synth rocker is stapled with as many clunky, laughable cliches as a Killers lyrical translator could throw up, clumsy Trump references “fake news” mingling with worn out platitudes “I know you’re not the only one/don’t look back you’re not the only one’. With all of its problems, it is an indictment to say that it’s still one of the most memorable songs here. The one quality moment is saved for the affecting ‘Some Kind of Love’ with its tender vocals and more subtle backing of pianos and dabbing basslines, which makes me wonder why they can’t pull it off more often? Yet, the irony of writing a song with a meta title like closer ‘Have All The Songs Been Written?’ with its contemplative AOR balladry, is totally unaware that with this record it sounds like the Killers have already written all of their good ones.
This is an utterly irrelevant long-player, a shiny empty monumemt to the playlists of a retro classics radio station, yet you can just fire up YouTube and instantly listen to the originals anyway. If you were playing drinking game of spot the 80s reference you’d be hammered by the end of this album. This is largely an unnecessary retread shorn of inspiration, that will generate interest merely because of the name on the cover. Less Wonderful Wonderful, and more bland bland, or forgettable forgettable, then.
Wonderful Wonderful is out now on Island Records.