More about: The Killers
After the success of last year’s Imploding the Mirage—which burst through the clouds of a murky period for The Killers to deliver their best album in a decade—it’s probably best to start with what the rapidly released follow-up Pressure Machine is not. It’s not an attempt to scale the heights of its predecessor, nor to top the massive hooks and euphoric E-street instrumentation. As such, it would be pointless to judge it on those terms.
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Pressure Machine is insteads a contemplative American folk collection that Brandon Flowers describes as a journey back through his childhood growing up in Nephi, Utah, a tiny city settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1800s. The Killers’ most famous tale from Flowers’ family history is 2008’s ‘A Dustland Fairytale’, an epic piece that climbs and climbs, shimmering with heavenly strings, a dreamlike guitar break from the returning Dave Keuning that tells a romanticised version of how Flowers' parents fell in love.
If that was the fairytale, then ‘Pressure Machine’ is the gritty reality. Buildings burn, horses die in agony and opioids ravage the community. The instrumentation reflects the brutality of life lived under such unforgiving conditions, mandolins and shrill guitar picking cutting through the mix and giving the album an uncompromising feel; so often The Killers' music sees them escape earthly trappings...not here.
The menacing rumble of ‘West Hills’ sets the scene, brooding through its first few minutes telling the story of a local dealer caught pushing “hillbilly heroin pills” before the band opens up and Flowers swaps baritone for a full throated cry, with a Wild West harmonica fading the track out. ‘Quiet Town’ is musically more upbeat but continues to detail the human cost of the opioid crisis, “Parents wept through daddy's girl eulogies, And merit badge milestones with their daughters and sons, Laying there lifeless in their suits and gowns”.
The lack of an obvious stadium sing-along is a mark of how different Pressure Machine is to everything that came before it; a daring change of focus only made possible by the inability to blast Imploding the Mirage across stadiums worldwide. ‘Terrible Thing’ is likely the most sparse piece the band will ever put on record, and the ubiquitous Phoebe Bridgers adds another to her burgeoning list of collaborations on the fingerpicked ‘Runaway Horses’.
Tracks are interspersed with clipped interviews with Nephi residents, grounding the whole record in time and place. These complement the songs wonderfully, emphasising the empathy and lack of judgement in Flowers’ lyrics and celebrating the quiet dignity of the hardy townsfolk. ‘In The Car Outside’ picks up the pace to a more familiar Killers tempo, with Keuning methodically adding textured guitar layers as the arrangement builds to its crescendo; if any entries here make it into the festival setlist it’ll be this one.
‘Desperate Things’ is a highlight, pedal steel and spacious guitar picking creating a soothing, medicated feel that brilliantly juxtaposes Flowers’ semi-fictional tale of a cop having an affair with a married woman before brutally murdering her abusive husband. The fatal blow comes as drums and guitars clash discordantly for just a moment, before returning to the woozy chorus. The record finishes as strongly as it starts, Sara Watkins providing beautiful, yearning violin on the title track, accompanying Flower’s most tender falsetto.
The earthy, analogue instrumentation, scratchy spoken interludes, and thematically consistent lyrics all combine to make Pressure Machine one of the Killers’ most evocative and essential albums. That this can be true despite not having anything resembling a radio single is all the more impressive. After six albums spent accumulating the ultimate festival setlist, the band can be forgiven for indulging something different while the stadium doors were barred shut. With Keuning and Flowers revealing they’ve already started recording what will become ‘TK8’, The Killers' rich vein of creativity shows no sign of drying up.
Pressure Machine is out now.
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More about: The Killers