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With ‘Wonderful, Wonderful,’ The Killers Go From Boys To Men

Radar
photographed by anton corbijn

With 15 years under their belts, the band’s new album feels almost like a coming-of-age record

The following feature appears in the October 2017 issue of NYLON. 

“How did I get here?” It’s the question that singer-keyboardist Brandon Flowers found himself asking while working on the most tender moments of Wonderful Wonderful, The Killers’ fifth full-length, released today. For answers, he went back to the beginning, dissecting the snotty, swaggering 21-year-old he was when the band started working on its hit-filled debut, Hot Fuss. He channeled that character for Wonderful Wonderful’s first single, “The Man.” “I’ve got gas in the tank/ I’ve got money in the bank/ I’ve got news for you, baby: You’re looking at the man,” he sings sarcastically over a late-night disco beat. 

“When we first started, I was really insecure,” Flowers says, sitting with drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. in a hotel room in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. “I was performing. It wasn’t really me. I did feel like I was God’s gift,” he admits, laughing. “When you’re growing up, you have this perception of what it is to be a man. It usually revolves around being tough, and bringing home the bacon, and being suave. And what I’ve come to find is that to be a real man you have to have a lot more empathy and compassion.” The single attempts to reconcile those realizations, though its humor makes it an outlier on the pointedly mature album. The Killers have been together for over 15 years, so it’s appropriate that Wonderful Wonderful feels almost like a coming-of-age record. 

The band’s origin story dates back to 2001, when Flowers and guitarist Dave Keuning met through a classified ad in a Las Vegas newspaper. The first song they wrote together was “Mr. Brightside,” which they then performed at an open mic. Vannucci and bassist Mark Stoermer, who played around in other local bands, joined in 2002. A few years later they made it big: That first track would go on to be hailed as one of Pitchfork’s best songs of the century, and they would eventually sell a total of over 15 million albums worldwide. 

But when Flowers, Vannucci, and their counterparts were thrust into the spotlight, they were still getting to know one another. “It resembles a marriage,” Flowers says of the group’s dynamic. “Like any relationship, it takes a lot of work. We’ve lasted longer than a lot of other bands.” “They say that seven years into a marriage is when [it] starts to get tough,” Vannucci adds. “It’s the same for a band. We’ve had two of those seven-year stretches.” 

Creative endurance inevitably requires some level of transformation—which they realized during a visit to producer Jacknife Lee’s Los Angeles studio. “Brandon and I drove out to [Lee’s] place,” Vannucci recalls. “We were sort of interviewing producers. One of the things he said was that he believes in rock ’n’ roll but that we’d have to do something different. And it was going to be slightly uncomfortable.”

The band took up the challenge, making Wonderful Wonderful the first project on which they let a producer in so closely to the recording process. “We needed some perspective,” Vannucci says, “somebody with a bit of an outside-looking-in approach.” The end result is one of their most fully realized albums, from the heavy and ominous opening title track to its searing ballads, sky-high story-songs and satisfyingly melodramatic soft rock. The record follows 2012’s Battle Born, marking the longest hiatus the chart-toppers have ever taken between albums. 

The new album meditates on strength and vulnerability, successes and failure, and masculinity and idolatry. At times, Flowers’s voice sound seven more muscular than usual, but these moments are also among his most introspective. A-side closer “Run for Cover” is the album’s pulsing heart, an ambitious narrative recalling the group’s earnest, Springsteen-inspired sophomore record, Sam’s Town. With explosive rock riffs and soaring electronics, it plays out like a 2017 synth-laced post-punk update to “Born to Run.” Its arena-sized heartland rock channels don’t-look-back escapism, but here instead is a song about a less savory topic, though one as American as apple pie: running from toxic men in power. Where the Boss sings about running with abandon to find the meaning of love and freedom, “Run for Cover” isn’t full of everlasting kisses in the street.Rather, the song is about survival. “It’s even harder when the dirtbag’s famous,” Flowers sings. Despite the song’s timely references to fake men who are “fake news,” the singer actually started writing the song nine years ago. “My brother would send it to me once a year and say, ‘Don’t forget this song,’” he recalls, “but we just didn’t have it finished.” 

“It’s a warning cry,” Flowers continues. “It’s like reaching out to someone and trying to shake them awake, when you see them heading into some sort of abyss.” The song is inspired by his upbringing with his four sisters, and seeing what they went through. “As a man, I can’t really fathom what it is to truly be a woman and all of the challenges that come with that,” he says. “But I do know what men are capable of. And that’s some pretty bad shit sometimes.” It’s not the only place on the album where he draws inspiration from the women in his life, and processing their struggles: On “Some Kind of Love” Flowers writes about his wife’s experience with PTSD, stemming from traumatic times in her youth. And on “Rut,” a cut full of hope and background singers, he writes from her perspective. 

As Wonderful Wonderful closes, The Killers pose a huge question: “Have all the songs been written?” Flowers sings, over the album’s most sparse and solemn riff. Clearly, they have not, and here, at 36 years old, Flowers shows that we never stop needing to document the process of growing up, of rediscovering ourselves.


Cardi B, Avril Lavigne, and so much more

Every weekend, we bring you #SOUNDCHECK—your destination for the best of the best new music that hit the web over the course of the week. Because you should always be prepared when someone passes you that AUX cord. This week's round features 21 of our favorite emerging and established artists including Cardi B, Avril Lavigne, Tacocat, and so many more. Turn up, tune in, and tune out.

"Please Me" - Cardi B and Bruno Mars
"Please Me" will pair perfectly with all of the Valentine's Day candy you just bought on clearance. Trust me, there couldn't be a more perfect time to listen to this ultra-'90s R&B track.

Head Above Water - Avril Lavigne
I'm honestly jealous of whomever Avril is singing about on "Goddess."

Tacocat - Grains of Salt [OFFICIAL VIDEO] www.youtube.com

"Grains of Salt" - Tacocat
When I realized Tacocat was back, I literally turned around at my desk and yelled. It's a miracle.

"Can I Talk" - Caleb Steph
Caleb Steph's debut single proves that he's ready for the spotlight.

Betty - Betty Who
"You better recognize/ That you're wasting all my time" from "The One" is my new favorite response to every "photographer" on Tinder.

"Butterfly" - Kehlani
The only thing more beautiful than this cover art is Kehlani's voice.

SASAMI - Free (feat. Devendra Banhart) (Official Video) www.youtube.com

"Free" - SASAMI feat. Devendra Banhart
I would have never predicted a SASAMI and Devendra Banhart collaboration, but I am 100 percent not complaining.

Rex Orange County - New House www.youtube.com

"New House" - Rex Orange County
Alex O'Connor never fails to impress me with his soulful bedroom pop, and "New House" is no exception.

YouTube www.youtube.com

"Cuz I Love You" - Lizzo
Distorted guitar paired with Lizzo's belting vocals? Chills, literally. She did that!

"Heads Gonna Roll" - Jenny Lewis
Like if Stevie Nicks' voice met Father John Misty's lyrics.

"Get Well" - Donna Missal
Donna Missal tells me everything I needed to hear about breakups on "Get Well."

"Patient" - Monica Martin
Sultry and sweet.

"Whorey Heart" - TeaMarr
TeaMarrr's bouncy new song is an excellent roast of the kind of fuckboi we all know and hate.

"Ice Me Out (Remix)" - Kash Doll
Kash Doll shows that she knows her way around a beat on "Ice Me Out."

"Lips of Lips" - Tiffany Young
Definitely catch me driving around with my windows down this summer blaring "Lips on Lips."