Let Justin Timberlake worry about bringing sexy back. The Killers have a far weightier goal in mind as they release their grand sophomore album, "Sam's Town" _ to bring good music back.
"We've gotten away from what The Beatles did and what started it all, and what Elvis songs were like, and it needs to be brought back," says Brandon Flowers, the rock quartet's lead vocalist and lyricist, looking serious and earnest.
"The experimentation has gone far enough. We lost the song."
OK, so some might argue that it never left _ and there are plenty of good songs to go around. Others may question whether The Killers _ a Las Vegas-rock quartet who have released just one album (albeit a very good, triple-platinum selling album) _ are qualified to serve as saviors.
No worries. The cocky band that helped rejuvenate the rock scene with their Brit-pop, '80s influenced "Hot Fuss" are even more confident with the release of "Sam's Town," a moodier, more mature disc that reflects the influence of Bruce Springsteen and incorporates the guidance of producers Flood and Alan Moulder, best known for their work with acts like U2 and the Smashing Pumpkins.
"We are doing our own thing on this record and hopefully kind of paving the way again," says bassist Mark Stoermer, sitting on a couch and unwinding as the band wraps up a long magazine photo shoot at a downtown studio. "I think really there are no weak songs on the record. ... I think they all show different degrees of growing. Just overall, the sound has matured and improved, in our eyes."
That they decided to tinker with the formula that put them on the map is admirable in itself. Instead of the garage-rock sound that defined some "it" rock bands of the moment, 2004's "Hot Fuss" mined New Wave with imaginative, captivating songs like "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me" (which were accompanied by equally ambitious and dramatic videos). Though they first got notice in Europe, it didn't take long before they would conquer their native land; the Grammy-nominated "Hot Fuss" went on to sell more than three million copies domestically.
But when it came time to work on their follow-up, the band knew that despite all their success, it was time for a change.
"They were constantly being called the best English band from America, and I think that they definitely wanted to draw on some different influences," says Rob Stevens, a top executive at Island Def Jam, the band's label. "They just started looking at great American musicians and performers. ... They didn't just want to make 'Hot Fuss, Part 2.'"
However, they knew that many outsiders were expecting just such an album _ at least sales-wise. Guitarist David Keuning admits some of that pressure did get to the band _ "How could it not?" he asks.
"Everybody is like, 'We can't wait for your second album, hope it's not a slump. And then you've got other people just negative, like, 'Yeah, you're gonna suck, no one is give a crap about you after your second, you're going to fizzle out,'" he says. "We were just determined to prove all of those people wrong."
The band found guidance in the hands of Mark Ellis, known as Flood, and Moulder, producers who have separately or together worked on albums including U2's "Pop" and "Joshua Tree" and the Pumpkins' "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness." But instead of determining the artistic direction of "Sam's Town," The Killers' say the pair simply prodded them until they managed to find one on their own.
"Their dynamic was bringing out what we already do and making sure everybody's voices got heard, so that's why it's probably a different-sounding record," drummer Ronnie Vannucci said as his wife took a catnap nearby. "They almost acted like coaches."
This time around, the band didn't need to search far for inspiration. Unlike "Hot Fuss," whose lyrical content was based on a lot of fictional, fantastical tales, "Sam's Town" is rooted in reality. There's a song about a disillusionment and a family member's addiction. The title track, "Sam's Town," seems to touch on insecurities magnified by fame's bright lights: "I took a shuttle on a shockwave ride where people on the pen pull the trigger for accolades," Flowers warbles.
"Especially lyrically, everything is more nonfictional," says Stoermer. "It's from a real place."
Part of that may be due to the influence of one of the great American lyricists, Bruce Springsteen. Flowers says much of his Springsteen knowledge was from his "Born in the U.S.A." days _ until he picked up some of the rock great's earlier recordings and was blown away.
"It's just a real pleasant surprise that I was going to fall in love with something," Flowers says. "I'm 25 years old and I thought that was over. ... You kind of lose the innocence of someone showing you something special, something being god-like."
Flowers and his bandmates seem to find few things special in music today. They've famously feuded with bands like Fall Out Boy and have bashed emo music, and while Flowers takes pains these days not to openly criticize his peers, it's clear he's not impressed with what he's hearing.
"I think bands are lazy. It's so much easier to do anything, even down to recording," he sniffs. "The whole world is lazier, so it's also showing itself face now in rock music and pop music and it's just crap. I'm excited when I hear my own songs, and we would like to be the messengers of good songs."
On the Net: