The Killers released “Wonderful Wonderful” Friday. The 43-minute album is their first in five years. The songs on the album cling to the nostalgic ’80s stadium rock sound The Killers have continued to maintain years past its prime. This time, Brandon Flowers takes his band’s leather jacket glam rock, complete with questionable Christian undertones, to a new level.
The Killers bank on the same masturbatory masculinity that might have been kind of okay in the ’80s — if okay means obscene and in desperate need of reassessment. But they try — with a little desperation — to place it in a contemporary context. The Killers is like a child birthed by Bruce Springsteen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews Band — a child that probably grew up to ride motorcycles, play poker and occasionally make people uncomfortable by throwing around terms like ‘babe’ without any sense of irony. This has shaped The Killers into an automatic oldies band, nostalgic before they even dropped their first album, and historical by 2017.
Frankly, the last time leather jackets were cool was before Kurt Cobain died. The band promotes their image of campy masculinity with lyrics like “I know the direction/the lay of the land,” “I got news for you baby/ you’re looking at the man” and the real winner, “Who’s the man with the plan?” Here, listeners encounter an ode to mansplaining. To give Flowers the benefit of the doubt, listeners can assume he’s self-aware — no one who claims to play “alternative” rock would really promote manhood in this way, right? But then there’s the video of “I’m the Man”: four minutes, 27 seconds of biceps, American flags and sparkly blazers. The last time this imagery would have impressed young people was when “Footloose” was still a thing. Even watching Flowers take shots wearing a cowboy hat, poker chips littered around the room, must make contemporary listeners want to barf out the past fifty years of toxic masculinity.
But if you’re a Killers fan to begin with, which you probably are if you’re listening to this album, maybe you already knew what you had in store. And maybe The Killers is onto something, banking on vintage imagery like The Decemberists, who admit their songs can get a little Blurred-Lines-ish. Sure, taken out of context, their songs are all about dominant white men, but they take these themes out of old folk songs. They’re not definitive, they’re simply referential. And then listeners can choose to take the music with a grain of salt: enjoying the instrumentals and the stories without falling for them.
Some might even argue that in “Wonderful Wonderful” The Killers makes an attempt to “be real.” Flowers has an agenda — he is a Democrat and a Mormon, after all — a volatile combination to say the least. The song “Tyson vs. Douglas” uses boxing imagery to address his personal struggle with his wife’s mental health — and also his effort to never break down in front of his sons. Somehow, Flowers takes this otherwise heartfelt, if violent, song and adds an extra problematic layer of masculine showmanship. The song “Run for Cover” attempts to send a political message, and it’s pretty honest in a way only a band that uses phrases like “the dirtbag’s famous” and “he did her dirty” can get. That said, The Killers can’t help get a little aggressive, with a chorus that goes, “Run for cover, baby, don’t look back.” Maybe these political undertones demonstrate to listeners that there’s more to The Killers than fringe and manhood. In a song packed with all the imagery that might appeal to supporters of President Trump, Flowers pretty frankly condemns the U.S. president, attacking fake news and Trump’s excuses.
The album also contains outlier songs, including a rather bizarre, ethereal ballad entitled “Some Kind of Love.” The imagery is certainly cliche: Flowers sings about a wild bird, a graceful storm, a faithful child — painting a very expected image of serenity. The song, produced by Brian Eno, specifically references the work of the ’70s artist, which grants the album more grounded roots in twentieth century rock. One of the last songs on the album echoes music history as well; “Have All the Songs Been Written?” is a cross between Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra, complete with immense whininess and romantic nostalgia. But in reality, the song seems disingenuous on an album that otherwise attempts some kind of pop-punk-glam-rock revival.
The album is a classic in a bad way, holding onto the hyper-masculine imagery that plays a role in the history of rock-and-roll and lost its edge in the ’50s — if it ever even had any value at all. The music is at least consistent with the image the band still projects even as their most relevant singles have faded into background music. The infatuation with nostalgia exhibited in the album shows that The Killers is old news — a band of Christian white men just can’t cut it in today’s alternative scene. Even if they’re secretly self-aware, no one can see it beneath their layers of outdated cliches and worn-out rock gear.