By all accounts, the opening of Sam’s Town, the Killer’s sophomore album and follow up to the overnight radio changing Hot Fuss, is numb. Not numb in a musical sense, just numb with a sort of anticipation. The title track, which kicks off the album, is the equivalent of a free sample; arriving just before a song that would indisputably make more sense as an opener, “Enterlude”. “Sam’s Town” opens with brazen fanfare, combining the Springsteen they had tried to suppress on Hot Fuss with a bold mixture of violins, keys, and choirs. It’s a different kind of song for The Killers at that moment in time, appropriately huge but devoid of the post-punk lite musical style that propelled them on their debut. The point was made pretty clear: If you’re looking for “Mr. Brightside”, keep walking, because he’s not here.
Now the search for “Mr. Brightside” is a point of contention for a vocal, but important, part of the Killers listening audience and one that divides their fans. Even as you read this, you have picked which side of the beach to stand on in relation to this proverbial line in the sand, and Sam’s Town is often that dividing line, so let’s break it down.
The way I see it, there are four types of Killers listeners, and Sam’s Town is something of a litmus test. If we want to boil the band down to the sum of their parts, Sam’s Town works perfectly down the middle. It has radio hits (“Read My Mind”, “When You Were Young”, it has some of their best deep cuts (“Uncle Jonny”, “For Reasons Unknown”) and it also has some of their worst deep cuts (“Bones”, “Why Do I Keep Counting?”) and it does a bit of everything for everyone. So what kind of Killers fan are you?
1. You Like The Killers, You Like Sam’s Town
You’re pretty whatever about your music. You probably listen to the radio a lot. Like, a LOT. Like, as you’ve been reading this, you’ve considered Googling what songs are on Sam’s Town half a dozen times. Because you know “When You Were Young”, but the underrated guitar shredder “Uncle Johnny” is just a BIT too obscure for you. Still, the Killers are the Killers and they have a list of hits as long as my… well. You get it. It’s long. And since you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a bit tired of the song “Human.” We’re all a bit tired of the song “Human”. You like the Killers not for musical reasons, but because they’re easy. They’re pleasant. They’re enjoyable and beyond that, they’re just slightly memorable.
Or you’re a music nerd, but not a pretentious one. You consider Hot Fuss to be the band’s earnest and, in some cases, brilliantly crafted ode to post-punk, and it was a good thing The Killers initially cracked the mainstream. You know that The Killers breaking on the radio lead, in turn, to Franz Ferdinand or The Arctic Monkeys breaking through, and you consider this to be a wholly positive and exciting moment in alt-rock radio, even if you also probably harbors some unintended resentment towards Brandon Flowers and company. But you also think there’s a lot of validity to the Killers AFTER Hot Fuss. They had all those radio hits, they were an interesting music headliner for many years in a time when being a guitar driven music headliner was old hat (hell, it still is.) You like Sam’s Town because it’s a perfect summation of what made the Killers an interesting band in the first place: An odd post-modern pop rock band whose hooks are driven by things that are decidedly uncool in the 2000’s. Remove some of the spastic stylistic choices and fuck-it-all production on Day & Age (which surely piss you off) and you probably find something to like or appreciate about pretty much every Killers release.
2. You Like The Killers, You Dislike Sam’s Town
If you dislike Sam’s Town but “like” The Killers, what you’re really saying is you wish they’d hung it up after Hot Fuss. There’s nothing wrong with this viewpoint. For you, Hot Fuss is the pinnacle and you’ve been searching for “Mr. Brightside” since 2004. You realize the importance that Hot Fuss had on music when it was released, and for radio, and for the opportunities it provided down the road for much smaller bands. But you know that realistically, while it wasn’t exactly the same kind of record that had come to prominence in the early 2000’s garage rock resurgence (due in part to the fact that it wasn’t actually a garage rock record), it did somehow get lumped in with pivotal works by bands like the Strokes, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and that kind of frustrates you. By the time Sam’s Town comes out, you’re over the whole thing. And Sam’s Town would NEVER get lumped in with Room on Fire or It’s Blitz, which is good but then, also, what’s the point? Sam’s Town represents the moment when the band served the radio dial more than it did the change of it.
You’re not alone. Many people dismiss Sam’s Town as a great album. It was an album that felt like it was trying too hard by a band that was desperate to keep riding the wave (even their facial hair was apparently pandering.) Sam’s Town‘s success is in its own way, a failure. If Sam’s Town misses, the world never gets a cover of “Shadowplay”, it never gets “Human”, and most importantly it doesn’t get the jacket Brandon Flowers is wearing in the “Human” music video. At the very least it doesn’t get any of those things as we know them today. Liking Hot Fuss and dismissing everything that came after it is, actually, a pretty common opinion.
3.You Dislike the Killers, You Like Sam’s Town
You’re in a very very very small minority. Like, microscopically small. You’re also a HUGE music nerd. Like, you hate the Killers but you’re okay with ONE album, and that ONE album isn’t even the most famous album? This would be like listening to every Bruce Springsteen album, deciding that you hate the Boss, but you really loved Tunnel of Love, a respected album with some hits but like, seriously?
Maybe you’re just a fan of awesome album covers and, well, Sam’s Town has an awesome album cover. But you’re STILL in the minority on this one. And weird. Like, really weird. For the record, Tunnel Of Love does not, in fact, have an awesome album cover.
4. You Dislike The Killers, You Dislike Sam’s Town
You dislike the Killers. Maybe you even hate the Killers. You hate the Killers for most of the reasons I’ve listed, so you aren’t really all that different from those that just like Hot Fuss and dislike Sam’s Town. The difference here is that you don’t even think Hot Fuss is very important. Instead, you view it as detrimental. You hated “Believe” by the Bravery, see Muse’s emergence onto the American radio waves as a desperate attempt to find meaning in “Somebody Told Me”’s breakthrough success, and further blame the Killers for the inadvertent sound change seen by Kings of Leon, the late 2000’s obvious quote-unquote “alternative rock” top 40 sellouts. Bottom line: you saw The Killer’s commercialism approach to post-punk as an affront that ruined top 40 radio and on some level, disrespected all of the music traditions that they attempted to pay homage to.
You also hate Sam’s Town because Sam’s Town took the one interesting thing about The Killer’s first album (it’s sneaky post-punk influences) and traded up for guys like Springsteen and Randy Newman, who are way less cool than Joy Division or Duran Duran. You’re a rocktimist, through and through. You’re also probably insufferable depending on how vocal you are about hating the Killers. Have you heard “Spaceman”? It’s not a bad later 2000’s “what if” single in spite of the music video’s tragically flamboyant Mad Max costuming.