“Never thought I’d let a rumor ruin my moonlight.”
~Somebody Told Me
The Killers, Hot Fuss
What a memorable summer I had the year I turned 16. I had the best friends, a part-time job at the local amusement park by the lake, and music, music, everywhere, all the time, on the stereo, in headphones, at the church basement where I practiced ballet nightly.
What a memorable summer that was for modern music. We’ve seen lots of 10-year anniversary stories and collections commemorating albums that came out in 2004, and I cannot believe how long and short a decade can seem. Perhaps these albums are only so memorable because they were so formative for me – and other musically minded souls of my generation – but maybe, in some way, they mark something of a turning point for pop and rock, the branching of indie into the mainstream, that pre-hipster era when laptop production was just coming into the forefront and beards and acoustics and banjos were just starting to seem relevant again. Somehow, through all that, the concept of the band still hung around.
That summer, caught somewhere between a woman and a child, I found myself as obsessed with listening to albums I’d ever been. While preoccupations with boys and friends and fears filled my teenage head, I had found a culture to immerse myself in, a topic to become an expert on that would provide a starting point of conversation with others and emotional fulfillment in the lonely hours. I usually spent the mornings burning CDs to soundtrack laying out in the sun on my driveway, or for when my friends would come over in the afternoon to hang out in the basement before we walked down to 7-11 or the hill by Laurelton-Pardee school. Chief among the albums I played, over and over again, was “Hot Fuss,” the debut from this hot chart-topping Vegas band called The Killers.
From the danger-driven chorus of the opening track, “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” to the infectious “Mr.Brightside,” and the anthematic “All These Things That I’ve Done,” not a track on this album is to be missed. Something about The Killers was so fresh and edgy, without being too far afield from the pop rock formats buzzing through the airwaves. This was a post-punk revival, fueled by pedals and swift snare hits supplementing rich synth grooves underneath stories of sex and jealousy and living fast, but not without a gripping fear and fragility.
“Over and in, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done.”
~All These Things That I’ve Done
The Killers, Hot Fuss
Take the lead-in to the chorus of “Somebody Told Me,” the repeated hook about heaven with ascending chords, suspended and full. So much of this album is minor and dark, it is heavy but sparkling, like it’s studded with cheap rhinestones. I love how Brandon Flowers manages to pull off storytelling frontman without making it all about him (not on this album, anyway). Mostly, one of the main things I still really love about this album is how ringing and rich the production is. Every song on this album has layers upon layers of transcendent sounds, building and breaking , the kind painting a landscape far back in the mix, a backdrop for the band to dance in front of.
But I don’t know if I cared about those kind of details when I first listened to this album, over and over again – at least, not consciously. I think I liked the words and the attitude. I think I liked the recklessness, I think I liked how biting and angry the songs could be without being terribly depressing to listen to – see “Smile Like You Mean It,” or “Change Your Mind.” I know I liked how addicting this hooks are – the last day or so, I’ve probably listened to “Hot Fuss” three or four times through and every song is an earworm in its own way. What was extra cool about this record was *everybody* liked The Killers. I became friends with one of my coworkers at Sea Breeze, a kid named Steve with curly hair and tall socks who would always annoy the hell out of me, only after I caught him humming “All These Things That I’ve Done.” When I’d invite friends from all over town to my house, some older, some younger, some hipper, some weirder, this was an album I knew I could put on that would set a good vibe without being dry, dull or offensive to those with more refined modern tastes. Everyone knew “Mr.Brightside,” and then everyone knew “Somebody Told Me,” and somewhere in there, The Killers became a band with popularity among the masses that was OK for elitist emo listeners, too.
This album drummed up a lot of high hopes for The Killers as a band to watch. Sadly, I don’t know if they really delivered on that front. I’ve tried hard to get into their later stuff, and I have done quite well, but it’s not without biting my tongue through some really cringe-worthy, campy moments (see “Human” or “Flesh and Bone”). Tracks like “Dustland Fairytale” and obviously “When You Were Young,” though, have solidified their image as dusty, dramatic American rock band, one who took a shot in the dark on a debut and created one of the most memorable albums of the decade – for me, for certain, and probably for a lot of other listeners, too.