Nearly one year ago, the Killers celebrated the 10th anniversary of Sam’s Town with a pair of concerts in their hometown of Las Vegas. Although their 2006 sophomore effort was as divisive as it was ambitious, it remains the band’s best front-to-back album. You can hear them chasing the ghost of Sam’s Town on Wonderful Wonderful — their fifth album and first since 2012’s Battle Born — which reunites the quartet after a recording hiatus during which both frontman Brandon Flowers and bassist Mark Stoermer released solo LPs while drummer Ronnie Vannucci dropped another full-length with side project Big Talk. (Stoermer and guitarist Dave Keuning, who appears on only five of 10 tracks, won’t be touring with the group, though.) Although the new album doesn’t live up to its effusive title by recapturing the glory of Sam’s Town — there’s no “When You Were Young” here — it affirms that the Killers are far from dead yet.
After working with various producers on Battle Born, the Killers put Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.) squarely behind the boards for Wonderful Wonderful. And while that doesn’t result in the cohesive feel of Sam’s Town, there is a similar sense of grandeur to cuts like the title-track opener, which, with its cinematic atmospherics setting an ominous mood, indulges their flair for the dramatic and U2-esque dynamism. Elsewhere, “Life to Come” and “Run for Cover”— a fist-pumping rush of escapism that was originally written nine years ago — are the kind of arena anthems that took Sam’s Town into Springsteen territory.
There’s a major shift, though, for the single “The Man,” a funky disco strut that, over a groove that borrows from Kool & the Gang’s “Spirit of the Boogie,” lets Flowers work his glam swag while poking fun at his rock-star bravado. “I got gas in the tank, I got money in the bank,” he boasts. But “Tyson vs. Douglas”— which references the 1990 heavyweight boxing bout where a then-undefeated Mike Tyson lost by knockout to underdog Buster Douglas — is a clumsier attempt at exploring what it means to be a man. Wonderful Wonderful packs more of an emotional punch with the soulful directness of its closer “Have All the Songs Been Written?” As Mark Knopfler lays down some bluesy guitar, Flowers longs for a song to right the wrong he can’t take back: “I just need one more to get through to you.” Mission accomplished. B
Struggling to find a bright side, Flowers pleads “don’t give up on me” and gets some gospel uplift.
“Have All the Songs Been Written?”
Stripped down to its core, this tune has the makings of a great country song.