Even thirteen years after the release of Hot Fuss, the Killers can fill arenas with legions of devoted fans. “Mr. Brightside” remains one of the most beloved hits from the early 2000s—in fact, since its release, it has continued to be a regular presence on the UK Singles Chart. With that being said, there’s a certain nostalgic pressure to love Wonderful Wonderful, the band’s fifth LP. Rest assured, though, that the album is not a lifeless attempt at expanding the band’s repertoire. Wonderful Wonderful is a big name for an album, but the Killers have always been larger than life, and the title suits this record well. In other words: it may be a while since the Killers have come out of their cage, but they’re still doing just fine.
Wonderful Wonderful opens with the title track, a synth-tinged tale driven by pounding drums and a characteristically conspicuous bassline. Many of the Killers’ grandest songs evoke imagery of vast, barren deserts where you can taste the tension in the dusty air, and this one is no exception. In the verses, Brandon Flowers, pulls beauty from the sounds of words by rhyming words like “rain” and “drain” and repeating phrases like “rescue, rescue”. Then, ever the raconteur, he sings a chorus that almost seems too sad to appear this early in the album: “Motherless child, dost thou believe/that thine afflictions have caused us to grieve?” When he flips the script in the final verse, assuring the motherless child that she will soon have “great cause to rejoice,” it seems like a miracle of Biblical proportions. The first songs on Killers albums tend to achieve a level of melodrama that’s easy to get swept away in, and this one is no exception.
Next comes a complete turnaround, both sonically and lyrically—“The Man,” a flippant, upbeat single that evokes Random Access Memories’ brand of 21st-century disco. If you want a concept of just how intentionally (and fantastically) bombastic this song is, just think of Flowers’ normal level of swagger multiplied by ten. The lyrics revolve around one simple message—“I’m the man,” predictably—but Flowers is great at wordplay, and it’s a riot to listen to him saying the same thing in dozens of creative ways. Throughout the song, he appropriates Rhett Butler’s “I don’t give a damn.” He also alludes to Bowie, singing the word “fame” exactly like he did. The track is so well-executed that even though it’s intended as a satire, Flowers’ boastful claims seem believable.
The next two songs slow things down and take a more introspective turn. “Rut,” a particularly personal song about Flowers’ wife’s depression, features the repeated lyric “I’ll climb and I’ll climb,” echoing the mantras previously seen in “All These Things That I’ve Done.” “Life to Come” is the kind of sweeping ‘80s-inspired ballad found on Flowers’ second solo album, The Desired Effect. Then there’s “Run for Cover,” the album’s second single. Flowers started writing this one for Day & Age years ago, and it’s easy to see the traces of the Sam’s Town era here—the song has the same atmospheric guitars, steady beat, and Whitman-esque sense of narration, alluding to everyone from senators to Sonny Liston. Flowers finished the song very recently, though, so it doesn’t seem anachronistic—especially with its timely mention of “fake news.”
Next up comes a double punch of emotion. “Tyson vs Douglas” uses an unlikely anecdote—Mike Tyson losing his first match—to communicate hopelessness. “Some Kind of Love” takes things a step further—it features Flowers’ children singing “we need you at home” to their mother, a simple statement that hits even harder than some of the more flowery (no pun intended) lyrics on the record.
“Out of My Mind” has a very worldly tone, full of superstar name-dropping, so it’s a bit of a shock when “The Calling” opens with a reading from the Book of Matthew—but then again, the Killers have always had a religious streak and a dramatic streak, so it’s a welcome surprise. The song is more overtly spiritual than anything else the Killers have written, with lyrics like “You heard that the master was traveling through/but what would you do if he walked in the room?” It never seems contrived, though, because Flowers sounds equal parts earnest and confident. With its minimalistic percussion and memorable guitar/synth riff, it’s one of the songs on the album that’ll stick in your mind for hours after you first hear it.
Wonderful Wonderful ends with “Have All the Songs Been Written?”. The track’s gorgeous harmonies and U2-like production make the answer to the question clear—no, not yet. It’s true that there will never be another Hot Fuss—but there will never be another Wonderful Wonderful, either, and we should appreciate it for the deeply personal, highly entertaining journey it is.