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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Bored In the U.S.A. - Johnny breaks down The Killers' Sam's Town

Sam’s Club, er, Town is the sound of a band straining so hard to reach something they pull a musical groin muscle, resulting in a nasty cramp that needs an ice pack to soothe. In an effort to become a stadium staple, The Killers attempt to plunder the surface flourishes of Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Jim Steinman-era Meat Loaf, but layers upon layers of production can’t disguise the fact that the songs just ain’t there. That's sad considering their debut, Hot Fuss was about 90% perfection, the first seven songs comprising the best “side” of an “album” in years. Sam’s Town is proof that just slapping an Anton Corbijn photo on your CD booklet doesn’t make it The Joshua Tree. In this case, it doesn’t even make it Simple Minds’ Once Upon A Time (look it up).

The recurring trouble with Sam’s Town is simply the general tunelessness of the majority of songs. I defy you to sit through “My List” without checking your e-mail, picking at your fingernails or leafing thru a magazine. And while I really want to like “Uncle Johnny” based on the title alone, aside from nicking the opening riff from REM’s “Turn You Inside Out”, the song is a meandering mess that might have been better served as a b-side. On an import-only CD single. An Indonesian one. Nearly every song strives for epic, epic, epic. Scope is fine, but both Bono and Bruce will sit you down and explain that every Achtung Baby or Born In The U.S.A. has a “Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World” or an “I’m On Fire” to balance all the bluster. Doses, boys, doses.

Thankfully, it’s not all puffed-out chests and grand statements ultimately meaning nothing. When the band embraces its inherent ridiculousness and gives in to camp, things click quite nicely, particularly on the ludicrous (that’s a good thing here, trust me) “Bones”, Brandon Flowers’ mincing (not a slam, either), foppish attempt to shine his Morrissey badge and parade it around the stage alongside a choir, a horn section and a middle eight break direct from the Meat Loaf Songbook. The curiously titled “Bling (Confessions Of A King)” scores in this respect as well. And “This River Is Wild” successfully fuses the Killers’ newfound Springsteen jones with the synthpop-meets-Smiths edge from Hot Fuss.

The band throws fans of the first album a few table scraps such as “For Reasons Unknown” which recalls the New Wave pop sheen of “Mister Brightside” crossed with the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant”, an appealing combo. And “Why Do I Keep Counting” recreates the meaty build-up and release of “All These Things That I’ve Done”. However, if you happen to grab the Japanese import, the torture continues with a couple of bonus tracks, including something called “Where The White Boys Dance”, which features this curious chorus:

Take me to the place where the white boys dance
Take me to the place where they run and play
my baby is gone
you might have a chance
Take me to the place where the white boys dance

Jigga, what? Someone wanna parse that for me, there? Is Mr. Flowers just more comfortable around his own kind or is this some attempt at self-deprecation by stating he’s just a goofy white guy? Or is he just saying he’s into white guys (doubtful, given his proud Mormon status – Lord knows there are zero gay Mormons!)? I can see why it was left off the U.S. version – not because it’s controversial by any means, just that it makes zero sense. It’s also the very definition of trifling.
EDIT: Quite a few listens later, I see that Brandon is singing from a girl's point of view, but the central question remains - why white boys?

And that ultimately sums up Sam’s Town - an earnest yet misguided attempt at greatness, initially arresting, but in the end, inconsequential and unsatisfying as it collapses under the weight of its aspirations and lofty goals. Is it better than pulling a Strokes and simply re-writing your debut? Perhaps. But good intentions sometimes translate into a simple “Nice try” and a dusty spot on the CD rack.

Sam’s Town - 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ladies & Gentlemen...

...I'm proud to present the newest member of the Johnny Household, Kirby the Boxer.

Baby is still adjusting to his new home, so I'll have the whole scoop later.

Fine Folks

"...and by hubris, I mean overweening pride!" - Johnny's Greatest Hits

25 Year Loop
Fucking Woof
David Live
The Night Before
Jobriath Was First
She's in Parties
She's in Parties Pt. 2
Tales From the Dragon Club
Tales From the Dragon Club Pt. 2
Okay, California...You Win
How to Sell Used CDs

Previously on "Johnny Is a Man"...

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