“Everything came to this grinding halt” reflects Brandon Flowers, frontman of The Killers “and it was the first time in a long time for me that I was faced with silence. And out of that silence this record began to bloom, full of songs that would have otherwise have been too quiet and drowned out by the noise of typical Killers records.”
Like for many across the globe, Covid-19 brought an abrupt stop to The Killers relentless stadium frequenting machine. Instead of skipping across continents promoting their sixth LP ‘Imploding the Mirage’, Flowers and co found themselves kicking their heels. A product of this unscheduled pause in life has manifested in the form of the Las Vegas outfit’s latest body of work ‘Pressure Machine’. This is a record unlike any other Killers album, instead of anthemic pop songs ready to slay crowds of thousands, we find our protagonists in a sombre mood as they document the humdrum realities of a small American town. Flowers takes on the role of narrator as he details characters, incidents and the general comings and goings he witnessed when growing up in Nephi, Utah. This is an outpost found in the Southwest of the USA with a population of 5300, no traffic lights, a rubber plant, wheat fields and the west hills. We are regaled with the beauty and frustration of living the American dream, from marrying your high school sweetheart and living in a town where everyone knows one another to the on-going opioid epidemic that rages through the US, along with the feeling of regret and the longing question of ‘what if?’
‘Pressure Machine’ is cut through with voice memos and short monologues of locals detailing what it’s like living in Nephi, which gives the album an authentic documentary feel. As you hear the myriad of different voices present themselves across the album’s 11 tracks, it builds up a mental picture of a settlement in the middle of nowhere, shut off from the rest of the country, almost like it’s stuck in a time warp. Wholesome Americana imagery is woven through the album albeit with shades of the macabre and the melancholic. ‘Quiet Town’ one of the LP’s more upbeat tracks, with its 80s pop wiggle, tells the story of two young lovers that met a tragic and untimely end “couple of kids got hit by the Union Pacific train/carrying sheet metal and household appliances through the pouring rain/they were planning on getting married after graduation”. Here is where
Flowers will first reference the crippling painkiller addiction that affects so many Americans, while quickly introducing the honest to goodness folk that frequent this little slice of the USA “in this quiet town/they know how to live/good people who lean on Jesus are quick to forgive”. A tenderness frames ‘Runaway Horses’, a coming of age tale with undertones of small-town frustration. Again, good ol’ salt of the Earth American iconography makes an appearance with Flowers’ angelic cooing about a “small town girl/Coca-Cola grin/honeysuckle grin”. Behind the perfect smile and flawless skin, the fairy-tale of young love begins to show its cracks “he traded school for wedding rings and rent” and “small town girl/put your dreams on ice” recounts Flowers. This is a recurring theme throughout ‘Pressure Machine’; ‘In Another Life’, a song that carries a similar melody line to Coldplay’s ‘Talk’, which in turn borrowed its main riff from Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer Love’, plunges the listener into another tale of ‘hillbilly heroin pills’ (the slang used to label opioids) and regret. With a more full-bodied Killers sound, Flowers adopts his big lunged stadium voice to contemplate “I wondered what I would have been in another life” while asking no one in particular “is this the life you chose yourself or how it ended up?” ‘Terrible Thing’, a song constructed on a brittle foundation of spectral acoustic guitar and the faintest waft of harmonica finds our frontman in a forlorn mode as he states “I’m in my bedroom on the verge of a terrible thing” while reminiscing on simpler, better times “I close my eyes and think of the water/down at the salt creek when I was young.”
As you may expect from an album that uses small-town America as its muse, there’s the occasional twang of country guitar and more than a few nods to Christianity. Via the album’s eponymous track, Flowers’ falsetto mixed with an instrumental earthiness refers to the burden of adhering to the big man up in the clouds “the kingdom of god is a pressure machine/every step/gotta keep it clean”. The Killers have produced an album that’s been stripped of their normal razzmatazz in favour of something more reflective, tender and contemplative. It’s a new angle that fits them like a trusty pair of Levis.
Pre-order Pressure Machine HERE