Today might be the most blessed Friday the 13th of my life. The sun is shining, it’s summertime, and there is new music from The Killers in the air. Here is a review of the band’s latest album, Pressure Machine, which is a metaphor for life.
Just a few days shy of one year after Imploding The Mirage, which I adored, and just a few weeks after the re-release of ‘Dustland’, re-imagined as a duet with Bruce Springsteen, I have very high hopes for this album.
This opening track is a very gentle introduction to the album. There are strong ebbs and flows and it contains exquisite imagery, leaving you feeling exhilarated in a very calm kind of way.
Flowers sings more slowly than usual, really showing off his vocal talent and displaying his range. Compared to early Killers work, this song brings more relaxed energy, almost feeling influenced by Bruce Springsteen in many ways. I actually loved this track instantly.
Although I have always been a huge fan, some of the Killers’ earlier work missed the mark for me. This was largely on the tracks that focused more on the instrumental noise and fell short on vocal and lyrical brilliance. I think this was especially seen on the albums Battleborn (2012) and Wonderful Wonderful (2017). Imploding The Mirage, however, felt like the band was back on track musically and the opening to this album certainly suggests that this is the case. There are lingering reminders of the groups last album. This might be due to the influence of Shawn Everett, who is also present as a producer on many of these new tracks.
This opening song has a lot of nice touches in the lyrics, my favourite being the line, “he’ll reject my actions, but he will know my heart”, which infuses the track with the same passion and power that we can always expect from Flowers’ writing. You can feel the emotion behind the track, even though the narrative feels less personal and emotive than the narratives we usually get from this band.
This second track, like the first, opens with spoken words that set the scene. In fact this trend continues throughout the album, present on every track except ‘Terrible Thing’ and ‘Desperate Things’.
I enjoy this style and have loved watching other bands incorporate it over the last few years, most notable for me Bastille using clips from films and advertisements blended into their cover tracks on their mixtape Other People’s Heartache. I really love the creativity and the expression of infusing other art into your work to immerse it further into the mood you’re trying to create. The music video for this particular song is also very beautiful, and is based on a tragedy from Flowers’ childhood, which Brandon described as a grief he had not dealt with.
Also, like the first track, there are a lot of references to drug taking and small, country towns. Both tracks feel like bittersweet odes to childhood and reference a specific town in Utah that is filled with tragedy and memory. There are multiple references to tragic events, perhaps ones that stuck with Flowers so much because they were a part of his upbringing.
Musically, near the beginning there is a predominant harmonica that continues throughout the track. It’s an interesting addition and certainly adds something to the song. This is a new style for The Killers, and I welcome it. It works very well to feed into the concept of countryside and sadness that the song is trying to capture.
Another slow start, this song is very sad and introspective. Again, there is a lot of reflection on childhood and perhaps adolescence. You can feel a real pain and this song is more like the heavily emotional tracks that Flowers’ is so eloquent at producing. The real difference here is that there is no heavy instrumental. This song is unflinching in its sadness and the level of vulnerability is refreshing and very moving.
Like before, we keep the harmonica alongside gentle guitar to accompany Flowers’ vocals. There is a lot of relatable angst here, and something a little darker.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this track from the title, but it continues the mellow, reflective theme.
This song describes a child called Cody who is “starting fires”, “talking with his fists”, and “raising the dead”. I didn’t connect to this song in the way that I did with the rest of the tracks from the album, but it is similar in its narrative focused around childhood stressors. That isn’t to say it wasn’t enjoyable, but the meaning didn’t quite resonate with me.
There are religious references to miracles, as well as developing the ideas of childhood angst from the previous track, but this time using the character of Cody as a means of channelling this into a story instead of just fleeting memories and concepts.
Opening with upbeat guitar and a nice bass beat, this track was immediately pleasing on my ears. The opening vocal lines feel lighter than the previous tracks, and the mood is more like The Killers’ sound that we are more used to.
Talking about insecurity and doubt, and using, again, a lot of nature imagery, this song is beautiful. It rises to a lovely, powerful ending. I really enjoyed this track.
A duet with Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Runaway Horses’, this is another gentle, atmospheric song. Fairly slow, sombre, and with rising strings, this track gave beautiful harmonies and a continuation of the narrative style.
I thought this track might link up to ‘West Hills’ due to the title and the themes, but it didn’t seem to in any direct way. I actually felt that this song fell a little flat compared to the others. Perhaps just because at this point in the album I was expecting some variety, but this collaboration sounds very like the songs before and after it. That is not to say it isn’t good, but I felt there was more room for it to develop near the end.
‘In The Car Outside’
Before the first note I was already intrigued by this song from its title. A very energetic opening, different from the other songs on the album, this song sounds very much like a classic Killers’ song. It has romantic undertones, high energy, and, again, beautifully constructed imagery. With mentions of chapel glass and fire as well as metaphors about the way someone looks as they cry, and their sadness being like a train. It reminded me of ‘Dying Breed’ in the sense that it was about loving someone who needs your help. It was bordering on a little bit of a cliche, but it is a lovely message in the way it has been constructed.
A part of Flowers’ innate need to help characters that almost become damsels in distress comes through strongly here. Echoing the mood of, “I was lifted by the sound of a spirit in need”, we are re-visiting perhaps emotions that he felt towards his wife, who has publicly spoken out about her struggles with complex PTSD.
This, to me, is one of the stronger songs from the album. It is nicely polished and it grew on me.
‘In Another Life’
In this track, Flowers tells us all about re-visiting the place he grew up in. He sings lyrics that remind me a little of ‘Fire In Bone’, and he is displaying his storytelling technique at its finest.
“Am I the man you hoped I’d be?”, “when will I make it home?”, he asks, and these questions feel real and relatable. The song also mentions country songs playing on a jukebox, explicitly naming it and calling our attention to the country feel of this track itself. I love that the style and the subject of this album are so closely woven together.
The message from this track is that you could have been almost anything, and are made entirely from the influences of the random events that you fall into.
The story of a woman escaping from a domestic violence situation, the key lyric here is that, “people can do desperate things”, and reminds us that we are all human. It’s a very raw track and the focus is entirely on the storytelling as opposed to the melody or the rhythm.
Flowers sings from the perspective of a police officer, and takes on this role for the entire song. There are more perspectives in this album in general—most tracks contain pieces more broad than the experience of just one person. This is a shift away from the intensely personal writing we usually see from Flowers, but it creates a more even vision and gives a succinct flow to the album. Some critiques of The Killers’ earlier work suggest that Flowers’ storytelling is in place over-the-top, often cheesy self-expression, largely focused. While I disagree that those traits are downfalls—in fact, I think that tone of music is where the band found much of their success—it is refreshing to hear them taking a new approach and taking a different direction on this album.
As the title track, I was looking forward to hearing this song the most. The running metaphor is that the world we live in is a pressure machine, crushing all of us. Flowers sings, “the kingdom of God it’s a pressure machine”, and that everybody has clipped wings so as to prevent them from flying away. It’s a very dark way of looking at our world, but it is certainly a relatable feeling to feel trapped in the life you have.
The stand-out line for me, “sometimes I look at the stars and think about how small we are, sweating it out in the pressure machine”, really made me stop and reflect. We all know how small we are, but sometimes we forget and need a reminder… and this reminder is beautiful.
‘The Getting By’
Another song that begins with somebody talking about their small-town life, we stay with those emotions for this closing track.
A narrative reflecting on somebody losing patience with the mundane feeling of their life, and a frustration about the way so many of us work full time and never see any more of the world than that life. Again, it is very reflective and in many was, sad.
This being said, the latter half of the song reminds us that small towns have their own “treasure”, and that there is beauty everywhere, especially in the blue sky you get in rural countryside. The title is pulled from the line, “maybe it’s the getting by that gets right underneath us”. Flowers is asking us to remember how beautiful the lives we have are, but also to remember that there is more out there, if you look for it.
A balance between being content and being ambitious, this song asks you to think about what is important to you, and what your happiness is. I think this song is perfectly placed at the end of the album because it leaves you on a reflective, but positive note. Flowers’ writing discusses sensitive topics in depth and transparency, but he also reminds you that there are silver linings everywhere, if you look.
To wrap up
Although this album is more sophisticated and cleanly focused on one specific mood than some of the louder hits in The Killers’ previous repertoire, it did feel a little one dimensional. I loved the tone and the storytelling aspect to it, but did feel that it lacked the variety of some of the groups more colourful records. This being said, to create such a beautiful set of songs only a year after the last album is quite a feat.
The top track on this album for me is ‘West Hills’, by many miles. It sets up the album perfectly, although having it at the beginning did make some of the consequential songs feel a little underwhelming. Overall, I am so pleased with this new sound and I can’t wait for my physical copy to arrive so I can play it in my car as I drive myself through my own small town.