'Imploding the Mirage' Review: The Killers broaden their horizon with a heavenly and joyful synth pop-rock album
This is the first album by The Killers after the departure of guitarist Dave Keuning while bassist Mark Stoermer has a reduced role due to hearing damage
The alternative rock darlings The Killers have now released their sixth studio album 'Imploding the Mirage' as of midnight on August 21 via Island Records. As frontman Brandon Flowers described the euphoric and synth-heavy pop-rock record, "It's celestial rock & roll." This marks the first time that the band has released an album without their longtime guitarist and co-founder Dave Keuning, who departed in 2017. Despite suffering from hearing damage, which eventually led to his reduced role in the band, bassist Mark Stoermer helped cover for his guitar parts, along with producers Jonathan Rado (Foxygen), Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Kacey Musgraves), and a number of guest musicians that included the likes of Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame. Besides Buckingham, the album also features stars like k.d. lang, Lucius, Weyes Blood, Adam Granduciel (War on Drugs) and Blake Mills.
Flowers hailed Buckingham's contributions, which can be heard on the lead single 'Caution', by saying "Lindsey was just instantly on board; he showed up two days after we asked. For him to deliver in the way that he did... It was just great to see the master at work." Seemingly greater than the sum of its parts, the grandiose and triumphant 10-track album encompasses a vintage '80s meets new millennium sound. As usual, it's marked by Flowers' stadium-friendly heartfelt vocals and The Killers' signature synth-inspired alt-rock sound. There are even tints of polished funk, country, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Eno, Talking Heads and Krautrock thrown in, as evident in tracks like 'Fire in Bone', 'Blowback', 'My God', 'My Own Soul's Warning' and 'Dying Breed'.
The striking album art for 'Imploding the Mirage' was definitely considered an artistic touchstone for vocalist Brandon Flowers, drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr., and bassist Mark Stoermer. It's actually a spiritually-infused painting by Thomas Blackshear called 'Dance of the Wind and Storm', and as Flowers admitted, "I never thought I'd get into art like this, but I'm sort of obsessed with Western landscapes." The band promptly kept prints of the painting around their recording studio and even used it as screensavers on their computers, treating it as a muse that would guide their creative process. "It became a member of the band," Flowers admitted. "Having that album cover around and the idea of what this album was really helped in making a cohesive, artistic statement."
Another big theme of the album deals with love and optimism. It's one of the reasons why Brandon Flowers recently shifted from his home in Las Vegas to Park City, Utah (he is a devout Mormon) in order to better facilitate the recovery process of his wife, Tana Mundkowsky. She acknowledged that she was struggling with mental health issues, some of which were directly tied to traumatic childhood experiences in the couple's home town, so they opted to switch to the mountains of Utah, as Post Malone had done previously. As always, Flowers remained committed to being his wife's "diehard" and "lifeguard" as heard on the track 'Dying Breed'.
Soon after moving to Utah, Flowers realized it was conducive to the new sounds on their album. It was "interesting to be there again and hear some of that music with the geography matching the sensation. Some of that stuff is starting to resurface and a lot of that had to do with synthesizer music. It's always been part of our DNA but it's definitely creeping up." Flowers seemingly references his domestic uprooting with the lyrics "If I don’t get out of this town/ I might be the one who finally burns it down” on the lead single 'Caution'. Even on the radio-friendly opening track, 'My Own Soul's Warning', Flowers sings "I tried going against my own soul's warning / But in the end, something just didn't feel right / Oh, I tried diving even though the sky was storming / I just wanted to get back to where you are."
But he also knows that love is the eternal panacea that heals all wounds, as he declares “I’m at the top of my lungs/ ’Cause big love cannot be understated” on the rousing track 'My God'. There are plenty of other great tales and yarns masterfully spun on this album. On 'Caution', Flowers describes a “blacktop, White trash” heroine who “Doesn’t like birthdays/ They remind her of why/ She can go straight from zero/ To the fourth of July.” Elsewhere, on the Americana-tinged 'Blowback', he talks about a woman "Sitting on a secret/ She didn’t ask for, no girl ever did." On the gorgeous collaboration with k.d. lang called 'Lightning Fields', Flowers offers a sparkling ode to the parents who raised him, with lines like "Don't beat yourself up, you laid good ground / Look at 'em all from scratch 'til sundown / You put the work in and then some /Where is all this coming from? / There's no end to love /There's no end to truth."
As Brandon Flowers admitted, “The good thing about this new record is that it doesn’t focus on the doom and gloom, as much as on the perseverance and the recovery. It’s triumphant in a beautiful way. I feel happiness is manifest on the record.” Although the coronavirus pandemic means that tours and concerts are going to be curtailed for some time yet, Flowers remains upbeat and hopes to share his music with fans in a live setting soon enough. "The only thing that comes close to beating those moments of inspiration that you get when you're writing songs is when those moments are celebrated with other people," he admitted. "I don't know which one's better. I love them both, and I feel like there are two sides to me. Some people just think of making a record as making this artistic expression and then singing it to people is a side thought, but I see it as two separate things and I want to grow at doing both of them."