Welcome to Millennial Masterpieces, where I’ll look back at a great album released within the past 17 years and see what its legacy is. Sixteenth in the series is The Killers‘ triumphant U-turn back into synth-pop, 2008’s Day & Age.
Released: November 18, 2008
Though The Killers are now synonymous with Springsteen revivalism, 2006’s Sam’s Town came out of left field. “When You Were Young” had the world doing double takes at their radio. What happened to the post-punk Duran Duran acolytes that Hot Fuss had dropped into our lives? Why were there so many guitars? What was with the devotion to Las Vegas?
Those familiar themes and sounds would ebb and flow over the course of the next decade; the cycle turned into a routine itself. It was no longer weird when they’d suddenly break out into straight faced exaltation about the city of casinos. Likewise, it would no longer be weird when they’d do an about face and return to the neon-hued synths of their debut. This was the case when first single “Human” dropped and confounded everyone again. It sounded less like a lead single and more like a remix of a single, the polar opposite of the highway anthem that had heralded their previous effort.
The rest of the album was a little more recognizable, splitting the difference between the first two records in a deft manner. The spirit of the Boss still looms large over the affair, even if it’s the new wave incarnation of the man. “This is Your Life” is a typical Springsteen working class character study dressed up in world beat rhythm. “A Dustland Fairytale” tells you all it needs to in its title, almost literally. “Losing Touch” borrows more than a little of that E Street saxophone squawk.
If there’s one word that works as the ideal descriptor for the record, it’s “breezy”. As a whole Day & Age is a lot lighter than its predecessor and its Anton Corbijn imagery. “Joy Ride” is a lounge lizard track through and through. “I Can’t Stay” and “Neon Tiger” soundtrack different parts of the same sunny day, the former being an afternoon jam while the latter ideal for taking in sweltering deep orange sunsets. Even the urgent, upbeat rocker “Spaceman” is a tongue-in-cheek tale of alien abduction.
There is one clear exception to the mellow vibe. Each Killers album features a long, slow epic either as the final or penultimate track, and it’s this album’s that ranks above all the others. “Goodnight, Travel Well” is incredibly dark, both sonically and lyrically. The brass fanfare hits right in the gut as Brandon Flowers ascends into a monolith of sound.
Although there’s a lot of gems on the record, there are quite a few that were left off it as well. B-Side “A Crippling Blow” remains one of the best songs the band’s ever written. A jaunty slice of baroque-pop, it takes cues from psych-popper of Montreal and fuses it to a beefy bass hook. “Tidal Wave” sounds like a rework of “When You Were Young” as a slow new wave jam.
Day & Age was a swing of the pendulum back into electronic territory, reconciling the Killers’ earnest spirit with their love of ebullient synths and formalizing their brand.