There have always been two sides to the Killers (a little like the way the Cure alternated between sugary pop and cathedral-sized goth-rock). There’s the slick New Wavey act that broke big with the legendary “Mr. Brightside” and released last year’s “Imploding the Mirage.” Then there’s singer Brandon Flowers’ Springsteen-style troubadour fixation, which has resulted in albums like 2006’s Sam’s Town and their latest LP Pressure Machine, a giant-sounding look at small towns and the people who can’t or won’t leave them as observed by folks who did.
Everything a Killers-as-roots-band fan could want is here: Drugs (the hillbilly heroin on “White Hills”) vs. higher powers, arson, horrible jobs and the return of Killers guitarist Dave Keuning. As the band found itself hanging around the house for most of 2020, Flowers began to construct songs based on his childhood in Nephi, Utah, full of the “good people who lean on Jesus who are quick to forgive” that populate “Quiet Town,” and the “quicksand streets” of a “cobweb town” that make a gay kid’s life miserable on “Terrible Thing.” Flowers even goes full noir on “Desperate Things,” channelling his inner Jim Thompson with a tale of a cop and a woman married to someone else.
Many songs open with bits of interviews from actual Nephi residents, which might be the album’s most canny trick: Here is a bit of podcast for you before the songs point out just how grim things can get. Make no mistake that, as our culture continues to grapple with a global pandemic that seems to pit neighbor-against-neighbor, Pressure Machine might be just too much of a bummer for folks who long for dishy escape. But the band is remarkably good at knowing just when to make a song go widescreen. Check for the sun on “Sleepwalker.” Flowers remembers what the freedom of youth felt like but also knows, as a wise man once put it, they’ll pass you by, glory days.