As its namesake suggests, Battle Born – the fourth studio album from Las Vegas’ most famous musical exports, The Killers – was indeed birthed from tricky beginnings.
But borne of its long gestation, over many sessions in and out of their Nevada studio with multiple producers in what became a four-year break between records, the result may well be the quartet’s definitive album.
“Yeah I don’t disagree with that,” guitarist Dave Keuning says frankly in his Iowan drawl.
“It took four albums for people to finally understand what we are, because each of the first three albums are a little different from each other and this one ties it all together,” he affirms.
The guitarist – who looks like the love child of Jim Morrison and Marc Bolan, with a hybrid cross-breed of American style with the glam rock finger work to match – is calling from on tour in England.
Manchester to be precise, where the curly-mopped guitarist and his bandmates are currently enjoying the fruits of their latest studio labour, “we can finally play to audiences who know the album,” he sighs.
It certainly helps that there’s an inherent familiarity to the Killers work. Fish for any one of Battle Born’s 12 tracks and you’d come up with an arena-sized catch, an album brim with rousing, lung-bursting anthems and emphatic choruses drenched in canyon-sized reverb.
Soaring on big melodies and bigger polish, it’s not anything we haven’t heard from the band before, but in the vein of a Hollywood sequel, it does it bigger and better.
They’ve never sounded so content in delivering their yearning tales of white-knuckled vagabonds and hard-luck romantics charging down the highways of life away from some dreary small-town and towards some elusive dream.
It’s arguably the same story they’ve been peddling since 2004’s Hot Fuss, their synth-dappled debut, but it was the Born To Run-indebted Americana of Sam’s Town that solidified their sonic aims, causing a bit of fuss of its own upon release.
Or, as Keuning puts it in his pointed American burr, “the second album people were like ‘what!?’ and then the third album people were like ‘wait, what!?’”
A simplified assessment of the genre leaps of faith between Sam’s Town and its uneven successor, 2008’s Day & Age.
An album that confused the mainstream as much as the band’s dedicated with its lead single, ‘Human’, a dance club-suited hit that was a gateway to a hodgepodge samba jams, saxophones, and more head-scratching lyrics over stretched pop rock.
Fast-forward to Battle Born however, and those genre excursions seem to have paid off, the band having found a way to better bridge their nous for wilfully broad accessibility, colourful pop, and the blue-collar mysticism that frontman Brandon Flower is so fond of.
“Now people are like ‘OK, I think I finally know what they are now’,” agrees Keuning. “It turned out good and something we’re all proud of.”
But it probably took the band just as long to find that footing themselves. Recording with five mega-producers (Steve Lillywhite, Daniel Lanois, Brendan O’Brien, Stuart Price, and Damian Taylor) could have become another case of ‘too many cooks’, but Keuning shakes loose the cliché that it was ever an intense struggle to reach the finish line.
“It never seemed like it was out of reach, it just seemed like the end was getting further and further away,” he proffers.
“Our estimates were way off of what we thought it would take,” he affirms. “I remember thinking it would be done late 2011 at one point, and then early 2011, and then Spring of the next year, then Summer. Then of course it comes out Fall of the next year.”
The musician adds that “having no deadline was a good thing and a bad thing… we had all the time in the world to work on the songs.”
A double-edged sword that meant the band took the necessary time to “live with the songs” but risked muddying their broader focus. To keep their day job’s output lean, three-quarters of the lineup used the downtime to work on other projects.
Flowers and bassist Mark Stoermer released their solo albums (Flamingo and Another Life respectively), while drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. took to side-projects Big Talk and Mt. Desolation.
So is there any secret solo material from the guitarist the public doesn’t know about? “Yeah, I mean I guess it’s secret because I haven’t told anybody about it. I have songs that I worked on – even yesterday – that I don’t know what to do with yet. I can’t decide if I want to be on a solo album, or some random side-project.”