The Killers’ ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ brings refreshing sonics, but frustrating disjoints

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Grade: 2.5 / 5.0

The Killers has never really seemed to find its way out from under the massive shadow cast by 2004’s “Mr. Brightside.”

Granted, it was a track that almost immediately wove itself deep into the meshes of our cultural fabric; its opening riff alone is still inescapable, like a subconscious melody humans are born with, buried somewhere in our limbic system. As a single, it set a bar that would prove frustratingly difficult to top for the Las Vegas rockers — the song has somehow remained firmly entrenched in the U.K. charts for the past 13 (yes, 13) consecutive years, defying all expectations — and possibly also physics.

But it also highlights the malaise that has dogged every album The Killers has released, and the band’s newly released fifth album Wonderful Wonderful is no exception.

The Killers has always been a group defined by its singles — sure to have one or two solid, runaway tracks on every album, but not much else. It’s easy to rattle off these singles: “Somebody Told Me,” “All These Things That I’ve Done,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “When You Were Young” and “Human,” with its grammatically confusing and much-debated chorus. (Are we dancer? We still don’t know.)

In a lot of ways, Wonderful Wonderful seems to be an on-thy-knees imploration for us to take the band seriously as an album artist, and though this attempt doesn’t quite succeed, it doesn’t exactly fail either. There’s a refreshing sense that Brandon Flowers and company aren’t obsessed with creating another seminal single, but their attempt at an “album” album never resolves into a unified picture.

For example, the band reaches back to its roots with “Run for Cover,” which opens with a pulsing guitar line and hollow, distorted riff that feels comfortably reminiscent of Hot Fuss or Sam’s Town — until the lyrics kick in. “Are your excuses any better than your senator’s? / He held a conference and his wife was standing by his side / He did her dirty but no-one died.” As if in an attempt to make sure the song becomes instantly dated, we also get a bridge featuring the lyrical gem “He got a big smile, he’s fake news.”

Yet, for all its on-the-nose political commentary, “Run for Cover” is, sonically, a very enjoyable track, and the only one on the album that feels “like a Killers song,” whatever that might mean.

“The Man,” in stark contrast, is built on a ‘70s disco-funk bass line and Daft Punk-esque robotic vocals (which make occasional entrances) — a sound almost unrecognizable for the band. The track looks back at the earlier, cocky and brash days of frontman Flowers’ “youth” in a kind of parodic self-roast. But perhaps expectedly, it also ends up being an equally braggadocious claim to be the prime example of this “new masculinity” of compassion and empathy. As it sidesteps over key changes, cash register “cha chings” and lyrics like “USDA certified lean,” (which can’t help but be delivered as if it were Bruno Mars singing it) “The Man” relies almost entirely on its disco underpinnings to remain upright. The song is sonically merciless — and ultimately fails to expand upon what the disco era had to offer into something new, a task better managed by, say, the tender examination of the era undertaken by M83 with 2016’s Junk.

Meanwhile, title (and first) track “Wonderful Wonderful” is perhaps most sonically interesting as a seeming-herald of an album that could’ve been. Too slow for the radio, too replete with odd, screechy backing effects, the track still makes a statement of itself, as if defining a new beginning.

It’s a shame that the song’s new, refreshing weirdness — cue lyrics like “Motherless child does thou believe / That thine afflictions have caused us to grieve? / Motherless child angels have closed / Their eyes, thou wast thrown away and exposed” — doesn’t extend past the album’s introduction — an album built on the themes the song raises would’ve been fascinating if nothing else, and more cohesive than the mishmash of styles presented here.

Wonderful Wonderful deserves some credit for its commitment to not rely on a single track to define it, and features some of Flowers’ most personal songwriting, albeit mixed in with a fair amount of cringiness and cliche. But it’s about as stylistically incohesive as albums come, and smells suspiciously like a surface level thrill that lacks the promise of layered depth to explore across multiple listens.

Imad Pasha covers music. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @prappleizer.