The Killers have come a long way from “Mr. Brightside” and Hot Fuss all the way back in 2004. 2020 marked a huge step forward for the Las Vegas alt-rockers with Imploding The Mirage, a record that was starkly different from any of The Killers’ prior work; it was a record that displayed stunning honesty and beautiful anthems in a different format than The Killers’ usual synth-infused rock ‘n’ roll.
The band followed that record soon after its release with a wonderful announcement that once Brandon Flowers started writing for the record, he couldn’t stop, and the band would have another album within the year. Another full-length record from the band that took 16 years to release six albums. I was excited.
Not just for more Killers music. But for another, different exploration of the peak songwriting that Flowers exhibited in Imploding The Mirage. To get more music in that vein was something that had me on tenterhooks for the duration of the last year.
Not even deigning to release one single to promote the new record, The Killers released Pressure Machine, the band’s seventh full-length, on August 13, and have proved once again why this alternative band from the early 2000s has had so much staying power.
Pressure Machine is a true work of art. It is a story album in a time when the album is dying, which is a beautiful thing to see. It is haunting and poignant and otherworldly; ultra-specific yet highly relatable. The record is an ode to Flowers’ hometown of Nephi, Utah, but more than that, it carries an honest outlook on life and on living.
Tied together with brief interviews that precede almost every track on the record, the narrative is the clear focus. And despite the choppiness that these interviews introduce, they add a fascinating, extremely haunting element to the record that pulls you further into the story. (Though I am glad they released an abridged version that does not include these interviews).
The most storied song on the record is clearly “Desperate Things,” a song that Flowers himself described as the darkest he has ever gotten in an interview with Apple Music. The reverb on Flowers’ vocals and the electric guitar that solely make up the first verse and chorus create this haunting shadow that enraptures the entire song and story. The lyrics create such specific imagery. And, whether intentional or not, I did enjoy the subtle nod to “Mr. Brightside” in the line ‘When she undid the buttons of her dress,’ which to me, carries enough of a similarity to ‘he takes off her dress, now’ in “Mr. Brightside,” to be considered a subtle nod.
“Pressure Machine” is permeated by a joyous acoustic riff and a casual drumbeat that keeps the song moving along nicely. This song also goes on to demonstrate some vocal abilities from Flowers that I really think we have never heard before—the chorus jumps into a falsetto that I thought was well beyond his range. Regardless, the effect on the song is really interesting—like many of the other tracks on this record, the way the reverb is added to those long, drawn-out falsetto notes create this ethereal dream-state, which feels very intentional. And, like much of this record, the lyrics are haunting in their poignancy and beautiful in their message and their very raw instrumental packaging: ‘Life’ll throw you a big red rose / Then rip it from beneath your nose / Run it through the pressure machine / And spit you out a nametag memory.’
The long violin-focused instrumental outro that concludes this song is nothing short of perfect. The violin is one of the most emotional instruments that exist—the amount of dynamic emotion in those three simple notes that make up the main melody is truly outstanding, and to conclude such an emotional song by allowing the violin to carry the melody was, without a doubt the right call for the song.
“Runaway Horses”—which features the vocal talents of Phoebe Bridgers—contains the saddest, most impactful interview intro. This interview bit begins like the others, but as the interviewee continues talking, it gets heavier and heavier, helped along in its haunting nature by the affected sound of her voice through what sounds like a phone. The rhythmic nature of the lyrics is very Killers, but the stripped-down nature of this song, with little more than an acoustic guitar and Bridgers taking a high harmony creates a really beautiful track.
‘Small town girl / Put your dreams on ice, never thinking twice / Some you’ll surely forget and some that you never will.’
Pressure Machine really features The Killers at their best. It is the perfect follow-up to Imploding The Mirage; it is music in that same vein but with even more confidence. It is full of raw instrumentation, strings and harmonicas, subtle production and synth moments, guitar solos from Dave Keuning that are incredibly melodic and inexpressibly emotional. Pressure Machine features the tightest writing of any Killers record, the strongest narrative connective tissue, and Flowers at his most vulnerable, and therefore, at his most impactful.
Yes, it is recalcitrant of Springsteen, but more so in its stories than in its sound. It is original and unique and exceptionally bold from a band that made its name in heavy alt-rock anthems. It is a work of honest pain and true reflection. It is a work that everyone can find themselves in. It is accessible and simple, displaying complexities only in the subtle moments.
Pressure Machine leaves me with nothing but excitement for The Killers’ next record, nothing but excitement to see where Brandon Flowers’ inspiration will come from next.