Wednesday, October 04, 2006
"'>They even made me show ID to get inside of Sam's Town

The Killers, Sam's Town and "When You Were Young" (which always makes me think of Whipping Boy's fine "When We Were Young") seem to have been much discussed recently, which means this is the perfect time for me to finally get around to posting this. Back when the single hit the Jukebox reviews were... "mixed" is too kind a word, and I was probably in the 5-6 camp myself. The funky funky Jonathan Bradley, though, saw its genius immediately and gave it a 10, something I'd now agree with. What follows is a discussion we had near the beginning of September about the band via gmail...

Ian Mathers: Okay, I give, "When You Were Young" is one of the best singles of the year. Have you heard the album yet? I haven't, but this makes me wonder just how good it's going to be.

Jonathan Bradley: Proving once again that good music criticism relies on repetition, not strength of rhetoric! :)

I mean, hey, glad to see you've come around. I really want to believe that Sam's Town (which I haven't heard - I don't think it's leaked) will be this incredible, monster success that will blow everyone away and establish the Killers as a fantastically awesome band, but I keep remind myself that if I'd only heard "Mr. Brightside," I probably would have expected Hot Fuss to be amazing as well, rather than a record with good singles and stacks of filler. I want to be a fan of the Killers, you know? They want to be a big rock band and act all dumb and grow goofy moustaches and make Statements, and that sort of thing is fun, and maybe Sam's Town will make them as good a band musically as they are publicity-wise. Or at least see a whole lot of critics saying "we always kind of liked these guys" like they did after Green Day made American Idiot.

IM: Agreed. Especially as one of those who said that about American Idiot. What's interesting to me is that on my recent listens [of "When You Were Young"] I can finally hear the Springsteen influence Flowers has talked about in the past. I think that being a genuine outcast as a teen (fat Mormon > the kind of "geek" every other guy in a band talks about having been - video games and comic books are cool now, kids) affects his songwriting in interesting ways. I do think it makes him better, and it's why he can toss in lines like " You sit there in your heartache / Waiting on some beautiful boy to / To save you from your old ways" without being emo (in the negative sense). What's crucial about Flowers is that you can tell he's never referring to himself when he writes about "beautiful boy"s, and while he's bitter about that fact (about his ugliness/awkwardness, however illusory/self-created they are), he's also very self-aware about it. This is, of course, why "Mr. Brightside" was one of the best written pop hits of the last couple of years.

JB: Sorry it took me so long to write you back - I've been way too busy this past week. But I didn't want to ignore your last email re: "When You Were Young," because I thought it was definitely interesting, and rung real true. The whole Flowers as Mormon outcast is an idea I really like, and yeah - you are right. I hadn't considered it before, but you're right on with Flowers never referring to himself when he sings about "beautiful boys." Somehow I'd missed the... self-loathing, I guess, in the Killers' music. It seems so often that in his songs Flowers is an observer - he's like the platonic friend of the popular girl, who's living vicariously through her life. Sort of. I think I'm not quite on target with this, but, I mean - "Somebody Told Me" is about him hearing about events second hand, the "Mr. Brightside" video did something I think is pretty rare even amongst the most whiny bands, that is, it showed the frontman of the band not getting the girl, not triumphing. Even when she goes out to watch the fireworks with him, he only gets a moment before she goes back inside to be with the asshole. And then, of course, there's "When You Were Young," with Brandon as offsider and confidant rather than leading man and saviour.

PS: Were you the one that put Monkey Swallows The Universe up on the Stylus board, and if so - where on earth did these guys come from? I've only listened to the first couple tracks so far, but... I think I'm really liking this. They need a new name though.

IM: Yep, that was me with MStU. The name comes from a TV show, I guess? I admit it put me off as well, but after hearing "22" and "Wallow" and "Sheffield Shanty" I came around. Interesting that you'd mention them, because I think one of the reasons I love The Bright Shallows is because Nat Johnson writes from what I think is a pretty similar perspective to Flowers - although both of them are perfectly physically attractive human beings they usually are coming from the perspective of the shunned/rejected/ignored party (see: "Chicken Fat Waltz", "Wallow", "You Yesterday", etc, etc). I think there's definitely some self-loathing in Flowers (and perhaps in Johnson as well, although in both cases we should be wary of assuming an identity between the singer's actual self and the narrator of their songs...).


We then trail off into talking about how good the new Mountain Goats and Jason Molina records are (in both of our cases, Get Lonely and Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go are likely to make our 2006 top tens, so you know they're good...).

I think Anthony and Alfred's discussion of "When You Were Young" is pretty on the mark, as I'd bet Alfred's review is (although I have yet to listen to my copy of the album yet; Jonathan had already told me that "
Unofficially (ie, pending further listening), this appears to be no better than Hot Fuss"), but I want to take a minute to defend two of the more universally mocked parts of "When You Were Young."

First and foremost, the lines "We're burning down the highway skyline / On the back of a hurricane / That started turning / When you were young" are getting way, way too much flack. When Bloc Party's "The Pioneers" came out I don't gales of laughter from the line "shaking hands with the hurricane," and "burning" only doesn't make sense if you think Flowers means literally on fire, which seems a bit odd. They're burning down the highway (i.e. moving quite quickly) riding a hurricane. If you don't like it because it's kind of over the top and absurd, fair enough - but I've read plenty of criticism centered around the fact that apparently "burning" and "hurricane" are not allowed to be in the same sentence. And I love the second half of those lines - the image of childhood as a hurricane, something both powerfully on your side (they're riding it, after all), but also potentially destructive and out of control (it's a friggin' hurricane), as something that stays with you despite you thinking it might have exhausted its grip over your life by the time you're an adult is one that I love.*

Then there's "Every once in a little while" - I would never attempt to defend it, as it is most definitely a horrible grammatical crime; I just want to point out that until I read Anthony's post I hadn't noticed it, because Flowers sings it well enough that it's effective. Here is where I'd refer to Alfred's point that Flowers has a massive emotional range to make up for his limited technical one...

*And, I think, this is a reading that's pretty sympathetic to the Brandon Flowers I've read about in interviews, the one who clearly has never quite gotten over being a shy, ugly wallflower with unpopular beliefs and tastes. This, if anything, is where Flowers reminds me of Morrissey; both are or were attractive young men who cannot help of themselves as unappealing. Although Morrissey always seemed to think so on personal/ideological(?)/metaphysical grounds, whereas I think Flowers is more haunted by the fact that he was actually physically ugly, or at least I assume - I've never seen pictures from the period of time he's referred to.

Posted by Ian on Wednesday, October 04, 2006 at 11:40 AM |

I have no idea what the grot at the beginning of the post title is - nothing I put there, certainly, but I can't seem to get rid of it.

Lovely, boys.

Lovely enough for you to try and force it down the page, mm?

I kid, I kid.

Why can you people simply not face up to the fact that the Killers are shite?

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The FunkyFunky 7 Are:
A group of kids with WAY too much time on their hands.