The Killers have always been a quintessentially American experience. A group whose take on indie rock ‘n’ roll was bedecked in the glamour of Las Vegas, they’ve always been acutely aware of the twin aspects of the American Dream – the longing for progress, coupled with the oppressive weight of the everyday.
2020’s excellent ‘Imploding The Mirage’ seemed to race towards wide open spaces, a colossal return that was imbued with a real physicality in its sound. Almost tailor-made for fist-pumping, bombastic live shows, the record was meant to be followed by a lavish international tour – except the pandemic intervened.
Follow up ‘Pressure Machine’, then, occupies a different space entirely. If its predecessor was addicted to escapism, then ‘Pressure Machine’ is about the intricacies of small-town life. The Springsteen references are coming thick and fast with The Killers these days, so we may as well say it: if ‘Imploding The Mirage’ was their ‘Born To Run’ – a document of escape and survival – then ‘Pressure Machine’ is more like ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ or even ‘Nebraska’; stark realism, equipped with blood and dirt, songs about those left behind.
‘West Hills’ is a gorgeous opener, delicately picked, with one of Brandon Flowers’ most affecting vocals to date. ‘Quiet Town’ follows, with its novelistic flair – Flowers cites Steinbeck as a key influence this time round – and hushed melody. The details come from his own experiences as a kid in Nephi, a small town in Utah, but there’s a unity of purpose to The Killers on this record – as if each member is focussing on working out past trauma, memories that came to the fore during the endless expanse of lockdown.
Produced by Shawn Everett, Jonathan Rado from Foxygen, alongside the band themselves, ‘Pressure Machine’ is a record dominated by subtle details. The interlocking of Brandon Flowers and Phoebe Bridgers on ‘Runaway Horses’ is every bit as magnificent as you might expect, while the stark, unrelenting ‘Terrible Thing’ – about a closeted teen who commits suicide – haunts long after the final note.
At times, ‘Pressure Machine’ is downright blood-thirsty in its depiction of small town America. ‘Desperate Things’ is one of the record’s more purely fictionalised moments, the tale of a cop who falls in love with a house-wife, who is suffering from domestic abuse. Winding up killing the abusive husband, its blunt beauty is reminiscent of the damaged souls who populate ‘Nebraska’, or even the stories of Raymond Carver.
Beauty and blood intermingle on ‘Pressure Machine’. Undeniably pretty, it utilises bursts of melody alongside exquisite detail – take the real-life voice memos that permeate the record, adding to the project’s documentary feel. At times, the darkness can be oppressive, but never overwhelming; The Killers end the record with ‘The Getting By’, a portrait of a community coming together, under the sun and “God’s mysterious way…”
Rarely an easy listen, ‘Pressure Machine’ flips The Killers view of America to locate something with grit and sombre reality. Like a series of photographs from the frontline of small-town life, there’s a vitality and sense of purpose at play here that the band – for all their fireworks and chutzpah – can sometimes lack. Largely constructed by The Killers central four-piece once more, ‘Pressure Machine’ is perhaps the closest we’ve come to the emotional core of the group itself. A rich, rewarding experience, this isn’t an album to be understood easily – uneasy listening, it could be their most enlightening record yet.
Words: Robin Murray
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