”Bling (Confession of a King),” like most of the songs on the Killers’ new Sam’s Town, is grandiose. It begins with singer Brandon Flowers crooning over a synthesizer drone and some chiming guitar notes, and quickly shifts into epic mode. Flowers yelps, guitar chords crash, and keyboards arc skyward, vaguely in the direction of God, or the mountaintop redoubt of Meat Loaf. The music is pure arena rock circa 1987, with a nonsensical, cliché-slinging lyric to match: ”Higher and higher/We’re gonna take it/Down to the wire/We’re gonna make it/Out of the fire.”
This sound represents a new twist on the Killers’ ’80s revivalism. On their 2004 debut album, Hot Fuss, the Las Vegas quartet hit multiplatinum pay dirt by resurrecting the sleek, sensual strains of British New Romantic and post-punk music. With Sam’s Town, they’ve removed the glopped-on Goth eyeliner, sprouted scruffy outlaw beards, and traded in urbane decadence for windswept super-romanticism. Bye-bye, Duran Duran; hello, Simple Minds.
They’ve also added a fair helping of Americana to their Anglophilia. In interviews, Flowers has professed a newfound love for Bruce Springsteen, which explains lines like ”We’re burnin’ down a highway skyline/On the back of a hurricane” in ”When You Were Young,” the album’s first single. Sam’s Town was produced by Alan Moulder and Flood, who have worked with U2 and Depeche Mode, and excel at capturing wide-screen rock songs. Not just any producers could make a tune like ”This River Is Wild” — in which Flowers caterwauls lines about watching ”the clouds fall from the sky” over a background choir and a gargantuan pileup of guitar overdubs — sound this crisp.
There’s no denying the Killers’ skill at whipping up an almighty rock & roll racket. What is not quite clear is if they’re serious. Hot Fuss was catchy, but it was bogged down by the smirking irony that afflicts so many revivals of the ”awesomely bad” ’80s. The pummeling, skyscraping epics on Sam’s Town are almost by definition a parody of rock bombast. But as jokes go, it’s an old and not very funny one. And if the Killers aren’t joking — well, let’s just say ”When You Were Young” isn’t quite ”Born to Run.”
In any case, the Killers are probably going to be around awhile. History teaches us that in each generation there is a desire for immense songs about beautiful losers, carved from canyon-size slabs of major-chord rock, with copious references to fire and desire and wild rivers and (as Flowers sings in ”Read My Mind”) ”breakin’ out of this two-star town.” There’s already a band, touring arenas, that specializes in this sort of thing — but they’re getting on in years. Which is where the Killers come in. The MySpace generation has found its Bon Jovi.