Sunday, September 25, 2011
Review: The Killers - Hot Fuss
(Because I have lots the ability to find the stars in my character map, I'm going to use something else until I find them again: musical notes!)
It's hard to dispute the popularity of this record. Ever since it was released it became the Killers' most popular album, a title that Sam's Town or Day & Age could not take away. In popularity, you could call Hot Fuss a modern classic. Quality-wise, I'm not so sure, but I'm not going to change anything with this anyway.
The Killers and I have had a rocky relationship. I'm not even sure why I bought this album; I just saw it in the store and thought I should maybe listen to it before I judge the quality of the band as a whole. I enjoyed "When You Were Young" as it is available in Rock Band, and I jumped on the opportunity to listen to "Human" when the single came out... wow, three years ago. That's kind of a while. But since then, I've only managed to enjoy two of their songs: "Spaceman" off Day & Age, and my favorite, "All The Pretty Faces," which, being on Sawdust, isn't even part of any studio album. Of course, I'd heard "Mr. Brightside" before (who hasn't?), not to mention all the praise some people tend to make for the album, but it took an allusion to an obscure B-side called "Andy, You're a Star" for me to be interested. Normally I try to keep away from examining something specifically because it's related to homosexuality (my explanation for that is a little long, and is for another post.), but that's what ended up drawing me. The Killers, writing a song about homosexuality? I thought, What is this nonsense? Turns out, the song is more about stalking than gayness (which, then, might imply a harmful generalization.), but nevertheless it brought me to purchasing the album.
What I found was an album that is somewhere in-between good and bad. Well, it's good, that's for sure, but it's not great. It's certainly not excellent, which is disappointing considering all the fame and popularity. But I can't really see any room for improvement here, except for the writing of better songs or a reworking of the sound. The sound, actually, is sort of uninspired. I'm pretty sure they didn't create the tried-and-true alt-rock group method, but they didn't do much to improve it. Now, they did do something interesting by making the synthesizer a big part of their sound in most of their music, but it just makes it sound out-of-place. That said, the rest of the band is very guitar-heavy and is somewhat comparable to The Strokes, perhaps without the pop-and-dark-lyrics aesthetic but quite similar musically.
Well, then again, it's not like they're without darkness in their songs. The aforementioned "Andy, You're a Star" is quite the stalkers anthem, with creeping guitar and lyrics so very unsettling as, "On the match with the boys, you think you're all alone/With the pain that you drain from love" However, with a female singer it would completely eliminate the gay attributes, and also as a poem with just lyrics, which is probably why it's supposed to only be implied. Of course, there's the actually popular songs, too. "Mr. Brightside" constantly leads the charts of Killers songs, but I personally think it's rather overrated. There are better songs than this, like "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," the bombastic opener of the album, "On Top," the only song where I really enjoyed the keyboards, and to a certain extent, "Somebody Told Me." The crown definitely goes to "All These Things That I've Done," the song that produced the now-famous "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier" line. This song is a great example of songwriting, the way the vocals change key, the overall composition of the instruments bring together a great harmony, and of course there's the actual section containing that famous line.
Unfortunately, beyond that there's little interesting. The second half of the album was really quite boring, which might have been helped with a little mixing of the tracks. All the good stuff is focused towards the beginning, and the album exhausts all its big tracks in the first half. I would have suggested switching "Everything Will Be Alright," the final song, with "All These Things That I've Done," which would have made for a much better send-off. I've got this whole system I look for when I review albums, whether or not they do a good job of evenly interspersing good tracks in between B-sides, or tracks that won't do quite as well. Carelessly throwing the singles at the beginning with the rest of the songs left to fend for themselves, which sadly is what most artists and record labels do these days, is not good for the album as a whole. I think it drastically benefits the whole experience as well as individual songs if, not only arranging the tracks well, the album is treated as an album and not just a collection of songs. This was the way albums were treated for the most part when vinyl was the popular musical medium, when it was listen to the album or don't listen at all. (Singles were made available, of course.) So artists back then took extra care to make the entire album better by treating it as if it were all going to be listened to at once. A great example of a modern album that does this is A Thousand Suns by Linkin Park, and it earned 5 stars from me and many others. Maybe this can be resurrected when people realize it'll boost album sales.
Overall, despite song placement issues, some of the music pulls through as being very good. I just wish they did a better job incorporating the keyboard, or in general tried harder to make the second half better.
"Jenny Was a Friend of Mine"
"Somebody Told Me"
"All These Things That I've Done"
"Andy Youre a Star"