Album Review: The Killers – Imploding the Mirage

[Island; 2020]

The success of a band like The Killers has always been a little bewildering. On one hand, they have always been an arena-ready pop rock band with sharp hooks, glistening production, and usually a danceable groove. On the other hand, they’ve also existed almost entirely within a hemisphere of silliness or cheesiness. The extent to which their albums, or even individual songs and singles, work at all is so often dependent on how far they lean into that cheese factor, either playing it up to an absurd level or dialling it down and attempting something more sincere. 

When they pedal something at either end of the spectrum, they usually lose their footing, creating albums like Battle Born or Wonderful Wonderful that kind of come and go without much memorability, or land upon a hook of nothingness like their infamous “Are we human? Or are we dancer?” But when they hit it just right, indulging in their absurdity without going too deep, but also including enough heart to ground the individual moments, the band hits a target like few other mainstream rock bands do.

In that sense, Imploding the Mirage is perhaps the band’s best whole album experience, or at least their best since the underrated sophomore effort Sam’s Town. While there’s nothing cut with such diamond-like precision as “Mr. Brightside” or “When You Were Young”, and certainly nothing as loftily grandiose as “All These Things That I’ve Done”, but this album doesn’t need that. Instead of coasting on the strength of singles and then losing its way with the rest of the album (which their last album is especially guilty of, with “The Man” being one of their best singles on one of their most forgettable albums), Imploding the Mirage is satisfying as a whole pop rock experience, with towering singles that blend in well with the surrounding deep cuts.

It helps that the band has rarely sounded better. Brandon Flowers’ voice is poised and assertive throughout, starting rather softly and spotlit on the slow opening of “My Own Soul’s Warning”, before ending up shouting – in a very Win Butler-esque way – “I just wanted to get back to where you are!” into the echoey void later on the song’s climax. It’s a visceral opener, and one whose grandeur and greatness are, quite frankly, never matched later on the album, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the songs suffer much for it. “Blowback” and “Fire in Bone” show us Swagger Brandon in all his finery, while cuts like “Dying Breed” and “Running Toward a Place” offer us slightly more measured and earnest vocals.

By now, Flowers knows the limits of his range, and he can sell the gentler moments as gracefully as the more passionate high end of his voice, and he’s clearly comfortable in the bed of music the band provides around him. In addition to his own glowing, glistening synth work, the guitars, bass, and backing vocals round out every inch of the album with style, in typical glamorous fashion. The drums are often huge, as are the electronic beats. There is definitely an 80s feel to this whole album, especially reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, Neu!, and Peter Gabriel. But the influences stop just shy of being overpowering, and we’re left with some nice surprises, like the kd lang feature on the almost-too-corny “Lightning Fields”, which works better than you’d think. Weyes Blood even pops in on “My God” to provide some heavenly additional vocals.

There is definitely a general energy here that pervades the whole album. The band feels more focused than they have in over a decade, hitting the exact sweet spot where their sound thrives. Yes, they are still operating in a very Vegas-leaning cheeseball lane, full of dust and glitter. And if you’ve been a serious detractor of their sound from the beginning, you may not find much to love here, especially since the music retains a certain unabashed gaudiness, and many of the lyrics often range from lightly head-scratching to flatout confounding (seriously, what does “imploding the mirage” really mean?).

But between the sticky hooks (especially the supremely catchy “Caution”), the sugar rush of the instrumentation, and the sincerity and urgency in Flowers’ singing, the experience of the album goes off pretty much without a hitch. The band sounds invigorated, and the listening experience benefits hugely from that sense of direction and self-awareness.