‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is The Killers most personal album, but not their best

Newest album leaves listeners uncertain about rock band’s future

The_Killers_-_Wonderful_Wonderful

After five years without any music, fans were promised something better from The Killers. Sadly, they did not deliver.

Courtesy Island Records | Cavalier Daily

Ask anyone to name a song by The Killers and they’ll tell you “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me” or “When You Were Young.” The Vegas-based group has endured success as one of the greatest singles-producing bands of all time, emerging in the early 2000s when indie rock was at its peak. However, this success has not satisfied frontman Brandon Flowers, who wants The Killers to be known for more than simply, “that band that plays ‘Mr. Brightside.’”

It’s been five years since The Killers released their last album, “Battle Born,” and during that long hiatus, Flowers and the rest of the band took time to get in tune with themselves. With an exception to lead guitarist Dave Keuning, each member — Flowers, bass guitarist Mark Stoermer, and drummer Ronnie Vannucci — produced side projects.

In an interview with NME, Flowers expressed his displeasure with “Battle Born” and its failure to find an identity.

“I think we were a bit aimless on ‘Battle Born,’” Flowers said. “We were searching. You’re not always gonna find it, I mean we’re always trying, but you’re not always gonna touch what you’re reaching for and we didn’t quite get there.”

With the release of the new album, “Wonderful Wonderful,” Flowers looked to end his search for reason and find a unique voice that would provide a way out of the cage that “Mr. Brightside” trapped him in. Unfortunately for Flowers and the rest of the band, their attempt to create a new sound is just not strong for them to come out of their cage. With Flowers and Vannucci being the only original members on their current tour, listeners have to wonder how much more The Killers have left in them.

“Wonderful Wonderful” is not a happy album. It predominantly explores two characters — Flowers and his wife, and their perpetual battle with depression. Flowers’ wife, Tana Mundkowsky, has suffered from a complex version of PTSD since childhood. Her abandonment by her mother at a young age has affected her all through her life, and “Wonderful Wonderful” accordingly deals with themes of loss, humility, patience and identity.

The strongest songs on the album are the title track and “Rut.” “Wonderful Wonderful” kicks the album off with the most experimental and electronic sound the Killers have ever attempted. The song portrays Flowers talking to his wife when she was a child — “Motherless child, does thou believe / that thine afflictions have caused us to grieve?” Throughout the song, Flowers tells this hopeless little girl to not give up on those who love her, despite the fact that the one person who is supposed to love her forever has given up. 

Later on in “Rut,” the girl has grown up. Despite the messages of hope she received when she was younger, she has lived a life of confusion and humility. This time, from her perspective, she attempts to overcome this life-long trauma and asks for patience. With every step forward, however, she seemingly takes two steps back — “Don’t give up on me / ‘cause I’m just in a rut / I’m climbing but the walls keep stacking up.” The track ends with an uplifting message in which Flowers states “Don’t you give up on me.”

After these two really extraordinary songs, the listener is expecting to be told a story — they’ve been introduced to the character’s pain and the support her husband provides. However, the story stops here, and this ultimately holds this album back. Instead of moving forward with a distinctive yet related song, Flowers becomes repetitive. “Life to Come,” “Some Kind of Love,” “The Calling” and ending track “Have All the Songs Been Written?” are undoubtedly similar to each other. All are from the perspective of Flowers encouraging his wife to keep believing. While the message is beautiful and admirable, it does nothing to move the album forward or build the sought after identity of The Killers.

The secondary motif of the album is Flowers’ quest to rediscover his own identity. This is no more relevant than in the first released single, “The Man.”

“The Man” is the kind of song that should not exist. It’s like disco and soul morphed together with The Fonz, took a trip to Vegas and did nothing but walk down the street like John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.” This is inexplicably Flowers’ attempt to invest in himself and become known for his successful new endeavors and not just as the guy who sings “Mr. Brightside.” Admittedly this would be an awesome song to accompany a closer entering a game in the bottom of the ninth — but not for an album about your wife’s depression.

“Out of My Mind” serves a similar purpose as “The Man,” but unlike the annoyingly confident single, this is a smart song. Flowers tries to impress his wife by telling her about his heroes and the methods he would take to ensure her happiness — “I stormed the gates of Graceland / to make you realize / went back to back with Springsteen / you turned and rolled your eyes / so I told you about McCartney / and that’s a heavy name to drop.” The transition from mentioning Graceland to Springsteen is rather clever — Bruce Springsteen, a hero of Flowers’, famously jumped the fence of Graceland in 1976 to find out if Elvis was home. Flowers tells his wife of the extreme ends he will take, like Springsteen did, to make her happy. This line also references the highly acclaimed song and album, “Graceland,” by Paul Simon in which Simon, like Flowers, searches for reason and a resolution with difficult relationships.

Rounding out the album are “Run for Cover” and “Tyson vs Douglas” — two songs that sound like they could have been on “Battle Born,” which is ironic considering the entire point behind “Wonderful Wonderful” was to create a different sound than its predecessor. “Tyson vs. Douglas” is about the famous 1990 fight in which Mike Tyson — another hero of Flowers’ — was famously upset by 42-1 longshot Buster Douglas. Being from Las Vegas, Flowers describes the shock he endured, as well as that of many others who suffered huge gambling losses. While both are not inadequate songs, they too do nothing to help the search for identity.

It is unfortunate that The Killers entered the scene during indie rock’s peak. “Hot Fuss” was such an international success that has and will continue to stand the test of time. To counter this, “Wonderful Wonderful” should have been conceived as a concept album containing unique songs tied together through one story line. This would have successfully represented the transition from harmed to healed that Flowers is pushing for. 

But that was not how this album was brought to life, and it seriously diminishes the attempt to make the group known for something other than “Mr. Brightside.” Instead, it consists of a series of repetitive songs, and while some of them are excellent when isolated from the album as a whole, they aren’t strong enough to change what the group is known for. After five years without any music, fans were promised something better. The Killers, sadly, did not deliver.

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