Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story “The Killers” is an understated, subtle and tense tale of two hitmen in a diner. Most of the story’s simmering emotion is buried in lines of clipped dialog coming from men with unreadable faces. Imploding the Mirage, the new album from The Killers, is the complete opposite: an open and vibrant set of songs overflowing with love, hope, despair, determination, nostalgia, regret and every other emotion Hemingway’s characters seem determined to repress.
The album’s emotional catharsis comes almost exclusively from vocalist Brandon Flowers, who made opening his eyes and calling a cab sound downright life-changing on the band’s first single, “Mr Brightside,” way back in 2004. Flowers’ energy is all over the map on Imploding the Mirage, and at times approaches country-music levels of theatrical intensity.
The album’s first single, “Caution,” opens with cinematic washes of sound before setting into an ’80s synth-pop groove reminiscent of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.” The song’s chorus explodes with anthemic intensity that suggests triumphant liberation, but would also work perfectly in a commercial about the joys of life now that your skin condition has cleared up. Flowers closes the song with an admonition: “‘Cause it’s some kind of sin/ To live your whole life/ On a might’ve been/ I’m ready now.”
Imploding the Mirage has a distinctly retro feel to it. Rather than marrying the synthesizers and other poppy elements of the band’s sound to overdriven guitar and driving rhythms played on acoustic drums, many of the songs seem to harken back to the keyboard and drum-machine-heave hairspray new wave of the 1980s from bands like Simple Minds and Simply Red and artists like Howard Jones and Thomas Dolby. The change in the band’s sound likely owes to the absence of longstanding guitarist and the band’s co-founder with Flowers, Dave Keuning, who did not participate in the album’s recording.
The minimalist groove in “Fire in Bone,” anchored by bloopy bass and acoustic guitar, evokes any number of ’80s hits, while somehow manages to have a vibe all its own. “Running Towards a Place” feels like a long lost Tom Petty song from the days of his skinniest ties. The song’s programmed drums and bright-sounding guitar sound as if they were lifted directly off the AM radio dial in 1982.
Imploding the Mirage breaks The Killers’ longstanding insularity and features several notable guests, including former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, singer-songwriter Blake Mills, and The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel among others.
Canadian singer-songwriter k.d. lang sings on “Lightning Fields,” adding to the song’s dramatic build that relies on heavy bass and snatches of evocative piano. “My God” moves between forceful stabs of ominous synthesizer and polished and chewy bubblegum pop. The song’s religious overtones give it a bit of a Hallmark Channel vibe, but the message of hope and cooperation rings true.
While some of the change in The Killers’ sound is due to the absence of Dave Keuning, another factor may be the band’s recent collaborations with Australian singer-songwriter Alex Cameron. Cameron and Flowers reportedly struck up a friendship in 2016. Cameron co-wrote five tracks on the band’s 2017 album, Wonderful Wonderful,and contributed to four tracks on Imploding the Mirage.
The Killers’ latest album feels like it was created inside a recording studio. Every song seems to have an assortment of sonic bells and whistles ably applied by producer Shawn Everett, who’s worked with everyone from Hozier and The Alabama Shakes to Kim Gordon and Beck. At the same time, the album feels fresh, immediate and emotionally intense. The Killers have managed to update their sound without losing the emotional intensity at its core.