"Have All the Songs Been Written" caps off the Killers' latest album, Wonderful Wonderful, and fans could be forgiven if they'd thought that the sentiment was true for the Las Vegas quartet. Yet, five years and several solo albums after the lacklustre Battle Born, the band seem to have rediscovered their groove.
Wonderful Wonderful's origins date back to 2016. A series of gigs celebrating the 10th anniversary of Sam's Town set frontman Brandon Flowers' creative juices flowing; the next album should be more than a collection of stadium rafter-shaking anthems — it needed a tie that binds.
And so Flowers, inspired by his wife's struggles with mental illness, began an exploration of masculinity. He landed on the rather anodyne idea that it's about feelings and empathy, not macho bluster, that makes a man — a posture he skewers on lead single "The Man." Though it's a worthy subject, the album's conceit is thin and, at times, trite. Flowers' earnest delivery doesn't leave much room for humour or self-awareness.
Much better is the music itself. In the past, their quest for '80s pop perfection meant shaving off many of the rough edges that gave their much-loved debut, Hot Fuss, such character; Battle Born missed the mark while managing to obscure its creator's authorial voice, sounding both like everyone and no one all at once. By contrast, Flowers' 2015 solo album The Desired Effect was a far more successful affair, and the band import much of its swing and swagger to Wonderful Wonderful while dialling back the stadium-sized histrionics.
Following Flowers' muse was a practical decision as much as it was an artistic one. The band recently announced that both bass player Mark Stoermer and guitarist Dave Keuning are retiring from the road (though they'll remain a presence in the studio), leaving Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. to perform these songs night after night.
"Run for Cover" is the most vital-sounding Killers song in a decade, while the funky rhythm and bass of "The Man" is cribbed from a Kool and the Gang tune (they get songwriting credit) and "The Calling" echoes the dark and dirty rock of Songs of Faith and Devotion-era Depeche Mode. These are balanced out with more delicate ballads like "Some Kind of Love," which includes a Brian Eno interpolation. The Killers have always borrowed liberally from the past, but at least this time they're mixing up their source material.
Despite its flaws, Wonderful Wonderful is a welcome course correction, a relatively personal record from a too-often facile group. Whether history remembers it as the end of an era or the beginning of a new one remains to be seen, but it suggests that the Killers aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Pick up Wonderful Wonderful on vinyl via Umusic. (Universal)