The best albums are the ones that leave you feeling as if you know exactly where the artist is coming from. That’s an oversimplification: There are probably terrible albums that make perfectly clear the artists’ intent. But with every album I love, I can immediately recall the feeling of intent, urgency and, most important, necessity in the work. In the end, that’s the question every artist must answer: Did they need to do it? I can’t answer for the Killers regarding Day & Age, but I can guess the answer: Maybe.
The most absurd thing about this record is the feeling throughout that the Killers are just aping what they think a band does, without any artistic conviction of their own. The album has a consistent lack of meaning and genuine feeling — an album should feel like it’s about something, after all. The Killers seem to go out of their way to obfuscate. Each of the songs on Day & Age could maybe, plausibly, theoretically, be about something, but they never let us know what that might be.
Of the many reasons for this, one is the Killers’ continued reliance on musical stylings that many associate with ’80s new wave. Not a problem, if it’s done right, which here it is not. It is rote and store-bought. They even take a detour into disco-tinged rock for "Joy Ride," with cheesy horns and lyrics like, "When your chips are down/When your highs are low/ Joy ride." It’s about as embarrassing as it sounds. The Carribbean-influenced "I Can’t Stay" is just an awkward, tepid addition, as if the members were concerned that the album was too white-sounding. It makes my heart go out to the steel drums and harp that were used in the recording.
Don’t get me wrong: The Killers are in the business of making pop songs, and the album has some enjoyable pop — the inane and commercial "Spaceman," for instance, has a fine (but mindless) assemblage of hooks and cool vocalizations. But inevitably, the album’s smart pop legs collapse under the weight of its awkward, unwieldy bulk. On every track Brandon Flowers’ vocals take center stage, without any musical frills around them, and we’re forced to endure Flowers’ high school poetry class banalities.
Try this on for size: "The unknown distance to the great beyond/Stares back at my grieving frame/ To cast my shadow by the holy sun/ My spirit moans with a sacred pain." And what of the question asked by the album’s first single: "Are we human/Or are we dancer?" If anyone were to argue that that means something, I would shout them down in public.
I’m sure the Killers feel Day & Age is a serious movement for them. After all, Flowers said of his group’s previous LP, Sam’s Town, that it "would be one of the best albums of the past twenty years." They take their work pretty seriously. Unfortunately, that doesn’t automatically mean they make serious work.