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The Killers - Pressure Machine (Album Review)

Tuesday, 24 August 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Even when all your critical faculties scream ‘imperfect’, it’s still possible to fall in love with an album. A complete surprise that doesn’t sound like anything The Killers have done before, ‘Pressure Machine’ might be frustratingly flawed, but that doesn’t stop it from being a quietly triumphant listen that, given time to work its brand of layered magic, will seduce anyone who approaches it with an open mind and realistic expectations.

If Bruce Springsteen had made ‘Nebraska’ in the style of ‘Tunnel of Love’, with a dash of ‘Western Stars’ orchestration and a sprinkling of Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’, the result would be this haunting and introspective Americana-based effort.

Far removed from The Killers’ patented arena-slaying bombast, Brandon Flowers, Ronnie Vanucci Jr and the returning Dave Keuning (bassist Mark Stoermer is absent due to Covid restrictions) have crafted a deeply personal collection of songs that chart the frontman’s upbringing in the small, Mormon-founded town of Nephi, Utah.

Recalling everything from his community’s enveloping opioid crisis, and living under the yoke of inherited doctrines, to senseless loss, blue collar fortitude and the lifelong fallout from youthful dreams, Flowers’ wordplay has never been more poetic. He chronicles life in a place where good people are forced to make bad choices, plagued by inescapable outcomes. 

The gathering storm of West Hills serves as a mesmeric opener. Capturing the tragic tale of a well meaning addict whose fate appears sealed from birth, the song’s distorted intensity swells as it ascends to an apocalyptic finale. In contrast, Terrible Thing is an intimate, first person confessional from a gay outsider in the depths of depression, and Desperate Things, which could be the best song Flowers has ever written, tells the complex story of a relationship between a cop and domestic abuse victim that ends in shocking fashion. 

Underscored by tender acoustic instrumentation, piano, harmonica and mostly restrained synths, the silken melodiousness at play on The Getting By and Phoebe Bridgers duet Runaway Horses redeems the darkness flowing through much of this record, allowing for melancholic yet bittersweet catharsis, if not salvation nor redemption for its sharply drawn characters.

On a song by song basis ‘Pressure Machine’ is a winner, apart from In The Car Outside, the only track that defaults to cliched pseudo-Springsteen storytelling. The problem comes when we turn our analytical gaze towards conceptual execution, beginning with the fact the band doesn't fully commit to the organic aesthetic that informs the record’s finest moments.

In trying to gift a little of The Killers’ classic signature, some garish synthesiser passages and danceable beats don’t sit comfortably alongside the rootsier textures, pulling us out of an otherwise well rendered world that chimes so strongly because of its natural authenticity. Elsewhere, Quiet Town can’t decide whether it’s a lament for Nephi’s lost innocence or salute to its inhabitants’ nobility, and Keuning’s piercing guitar solo on Cody resembles misplaced bluster. The spoken monologues between tracks aren’t always necessary or pertinent, either.

Failings aside, ‘Pressure Machine’ is still a wonderful listen due to the heart, soul and truth emanating from its core. Written during an unprecedented global period of introspection and reflection, that shared experience that joins listener and creator renders an added subtextual power to the record’s relatable themes. It contributes to a magnetic and comforting listen that feels much more profound, meaningful and, dare we say, human than The Killers’ usual fare.

The Killers Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue May 24 2022 - DONCASTER Keepmoat Stadium
Thu May 26 2022 - BRISTOL Ashton Gate
Sat May 28 2022 - COVENTRY Ricoh Stadium
Mon May 30 2022 - SOUTHAMPTON St Mary's
Wed June 01 2022 - MIDDLESBROUGH Riverside Stadium
Fri June 03 2022 - LONDON Emirates Stadium
Sat June 04 2022 - LONDON Emirates Stadium
Mon June 06 2022 - FALKIRK Falkirk Stadium
Tue June 07 2022 - FALKIRK Falkirk Stadium
Thu June 09 2022 - NORWICH Carrow Road
Sat June 11 2022 - MANCHESTER Emirates Old Trafford
Tue June 14 2022 - DUBLIN Malahide Castle
Wed June 15 2022 - DUBLIN Malahide Castle

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