Has it really been two years since Hot Fuss came out? The Killers enjoyed success in the form of their three big singles: "Somebody Told Me," "Mr. Brightside," and "All These Things That I've Done." Interest seemed to fade in the band though, as is often the case, so Sam's Town hasn't made quite the splash the band anticipated (Flowers: "This album is one of the best albums in the past 20 years. There's nothing that touches this album").
Sam's Town opens with its title track, and immediately sets forth the theme of the album: Our narrator desperately wants to leave his tired home and start his new life. The tension between the overwhelming emptiness of the town and the sincere hope for something better is recurrent throughout the songs, and is best explained by standout track "This River Is Wild:"
This town was meant for passing through, boy, it ain't nothing new. Now go and show 'em that the world stayed round. [...] Or should I just get along with myself? I never did get along with everybody else. I've been trying hard to do what's right. [...] Well, this river is wild."Enterlude," a 49-second introduction to the album, follows "Sam's Town" and breaks the fourth wall as Flowers and a piano welcome the listener, and informs him that "It's good to have you with us, even if it's just for the day." Appropriately, Sam's Town is closed with "Exitlude" ("we hope you enjoyed your stay").
The band has certainly expanded their sound on their new full-length -- for the most adventurous example, see "Bones." The song opens with a grandiose choir and features blazing horns. Flowers' vocals are dubbed over a monotone reading of the lyrics in "For Reasons Unknown," and I'm fairly certain that's a glockenspiel in "Why Do I Keep Counting?." And while there is still plenty of synthesizer to maintain an atmosphere or to carry the melody (most notably in current single, "When You Were Young"), Sam's Town features some noteworthy piano.
Despite this willingness to experiment, the band is still rooted in the revival of popular new-wave of the 1980s. Fortunately, all of the aspects of `80s hits I hate aren't present here; in place of any drum machine, the production on the percussion is clear and well-suited to the songs. Bass lines are interesting and attention-catching (see: "Uncle Jonny," "This River Is Wild"). Finally, Flowers' singing is clear and strong. Even the band's most dedicated opponents have to acknowledge the talent of the vocals here.
There are, of course, minor faults. "Enterlude" and "Exitlude" are unnecessary and serve as a distraction. Adding a theatrical element has worked for other bands, but here the album's bookends interrupt the confessional tone of many of the songs. There are moments when the background vocals seem pointless and annoying. And while Hot Fuss saw comically awful lyrics in "Somebody Told Me," on Sam's Town they are found not, surprisingly, in "Bling (Confessions of a King)," but in "Uncle Jonny:" "When everybody else refrained."
If you didn't like Hot Fuss, you're going to hate this. If, however, you enjoyed the Killers' first release, I'm willing to bet that you'll like Sam's Town. I've taken off a point for the missteps listed above, and another point for Flowers' absolutely ridiculous ego concerning the album.
When You Were Young