Being one of the most popular bands in mainstream music, The Killers could easily have cashed in on their huge success with a simple middle-of-the-road pop-rock album. Pleasantly however, this is far from the case with their seventh studio album Pressure Machines. The album is based around the concept of life in small town America, and the themes that come with this are bravely and unreservedly explored. Most of the songs begin with sampled recordings of small-town inhabitants talking about their lives, but it seems to be the singer who is really battling with this way of life.
This is true particularly in regards to the contrast between the idealistic living of ‘good people who lean on Jesus’, and the realities of the problems that seep into such idyllic societies, such as the ‘opioid stories’ discussed in Quiet Time and other songs. The album addresses these problems using stories as Flowers switches between first and third person, telling them through different perspectives. This commendable artistic decision shows the band have thought deeply about the topics they are discussing and more importantly are invested in them. It helps also that the ineffably provocative quality in Flowers’ voice that makes one ponder possibilities and memories suits the storytelling and challenging themes the album contains perfectly. His voice and delivery not only paint a vivid picture of the stories – the mood of which are set well by the band, through the use of a refreshingly diverse palette of instruments including strings, mandolins and harmonicas – but also induces an internal feeling whereby one imagines oneself looking out into the distance contemplating what could have been, which is potently pertinent to the idea of a ‘barbed wire town’ and ‘barbed wire dreams’.
This feeling is also triggered by the intro of Desperate Things, the best example of a song accommodating different perspectives. Flowers offers an explanation of an abuser’s violence, describing how ‘you bend your own truth’ so ‘you can justify the sin’ and more empathetically that love makes people ‘desperate enough to abandon their dreams’ and that ‘when you’re in love, you can be blinded by your own heart.’ Desperate Things is arguably the most inductive of the songs for the mind and conscience, but it is West Hills, the album’s opener, that stands out by far as the best listening experience for the ears. An intriguing musical intro starts before the almost mournful vocals join while ambient backing vocals are added to build the chorus. After a second verse, the song continues to build and even features orgasmic scorching guitar work as the music and story reaches their own climax. #
The cover art of The Killers’ new album Pressure Machine depicting crosses enclosed within barbed wire matches perfectly the contrasting themes of small town religious life and the inevitable problems that come with it that are the study of this album. A thought-provoking project, it is endearing to see a band so established as The Killers looking for ways to push their music, themselves, and maybe even their fans. And it helps they’ve produced some great-sounding songs in doing so!