Conceived in the empty period of time when The Killers were meant to be on the road touring their critically acclaimed 2020 project, Imploding the Mirage, the Las Vegas alt-rock and new wave titans’ seventh studio album Pressure Machine is described by frontman Brandon Flowers as containing “songs that would have otherwise been too quiet and drowned out by the noise of typical Killers records.” Taking a step back from their arena-sized anthems and veering towards a more acoustic space, The Killers’ latest is a COVID-era experiment that really works, and a striking concept album that easily stands up with some of their classics.
The album serves as an in-depth profile of Brandon Flowers’ hometown of Nephi, Utah, a city of just over 5000 people directly in the centre of one of the USA’s most notorious flyover states. Interspersed with recordings of current residents of the town telling their stories, Flowers embodies various characters, both real and imagined, and recounts some of the stories he heard and saw in the town he lived in until the age of 16. Flowers’ vocal tone has always had the gravitas of a born storyteller, with a waver built in that makes him sound like he’s on the verge of breaking down at all times. The removal of some of the Killers’ reverb and blown-out sound lets us in on just how poignant and poetic of a lyricist he can be, placing a new spotlight on his words.
The trademark Killers sound doesn’t go away completely – it’s used for a new, dramatic purpose. Many of Flowers’ tales are deeply heartbreaking, as he speaks on the opioid crisis, domestic abuse, reckonings with faith in a deeply evangelical town leading to tragic and rebellious behaviours, and a series of tracks dedicated to both sides of an ill-fated high-school marriage – the wife played dutifully by indie darling Phoebe Bridgers. The band’s more bombastic sound becomes associated with Flowers’ portrayals of the town’s more steadfast residents, focusing on putting in a hard day’s work in pursuit of the American dream and treating the tragedies as one-off accidents even as they pile up. Flowers approaches the album like a documentarian, and the truths he uncovers are deeply affecting.
Best Track: Runaway Horses (Ft. Phoebe Bridgers)