Recently, the Killers released their seventh album, Pressure Machine – their follow-up to last year’s downright incredible Imploding the Mirage. I… well, I adored that album, as did many others, so the heat was on for the boys from America to deliver another seminal album.
Starting life during the same recording sessions for Mirage, and ultimately becoming its own project, Pressure Machine (which is on its way to proving the band’s seventh No. 1 in the UK) was suddenly teased a little over a month back. No huge amount of buildup, no record-breaking marketing. Why would they need to? You know who the Killers are by now. Go to any student union and you’ll find ‘Mr. Brightside’ or ‘Somebody Told Me’ belted out by rowdy crowds of twenty-somethings.
But is Pressure Machine really that good? Does it live up to the hype?
Pressure Machine is very much an album that centres on frontman Brandon Flowers’ early life in the small town of Nephi, Utah; regaling and retelling past stories of himself, or people he knew, wrapped up into questionably authentic ballads and rockers. And you can really feel how richly ingrained it is to Flowers. It also features guitarist Dave Keuning back in the recording studio after his absence on the group’s previous album, and boy, does it show.
The problem many fans have with Pressure Machine, however, is that they just can’t connect with it. They can’t apply it to their own lives. It feels too much like a poetic love letter to a bygone age that most people can’t relate to. But I don’t agree. It deals with the same themes and troubles of last year’s Mirage, echoing songs like ‘Caution’ which wrestle with the intimate struggle of small people in a small town.
Pressure Machine opens with ‘West Hills’, and it’s a hell of a start. The songs on the album open with Vox Pop-esque interviews; with people of Nephi talking about all manner of small-town things. This bleeds into a real dreamlike melody; mirroring the mellower moments of Imploding the Mirage. As noted by countless others, there’s a strong Springsteen vibe here (Nebraska, specifically), as Flowers touches on the working man in a land so alien to so many. ‘West Hills’ instantly hooked me in, though, as it builds and builds – like so many Killers staples do – guitar blazing in the background like a burning crop field.
‘Quiet Town’ gives me more of a classic Killers vibe, somewhere around Day and Age and Mirage fused into one. The use of southern-certified mouth organ and Flowers’ flowing vocals are just superb. It opens with a dark tale of kids dying on the train tracks, and it just grows exponentially. Flowers really shines through on ‘Terrible Thing’, once more reflecting the macabre side of small communities and time-honoured traditions. It’s not my favourite, but there’s a real beauty to it all the same.
‘Cody’, however, is just a powerhouse, running like a steam locomotive from ‘play’ to ‘next track’. It’s a song about a kid gone bad; committing arson and testing his parents’ patience. Teenage rebellion, religion and responsibility. It’s all there. The guitar is jangly and as Flowers bellows, ‘We’re all waiting for the miracle to come’, I can’t help thinking, maybe, it already has. Near the three-minute back, all Hell breaks loose, and I find myself catching goosebumps.
‘Sleepwalker’ packs the ‘openness’ of Mirage, akin to that of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ similarly freeing Into the Great Wide Open. It’s one of the less instantly memorable tracks, though, treading a lot of the same ground as before. ‘Runaway Horses’ just made me realise how truly dark the album is; opening with someone telling us about a seriously injured horse and its young owner, a destroyed, crying girl. It’s bleak. The song itself reminds me a lot of ‘Caution’, sparking soundscapes of the claustrophobia small towns can bring – furthered by the angelic tones of Phoebe Bridgers.
The first teased material from the album was ‘In the Car Outside’ and, to be fair, is certainly one of the biggest contenders for a lead single. It’s possibly the most ‘Killers sounding’ song on the record, chugging away like a runaway train. Those fleeting chords and Flowers’ wind-whipped pipes fuse into a sonic automobile, cruising down unmarked roads and long, winding freeways. It’s a summer song, and it sounds spectacular.
Sam’s Town meets Springsteen for ‘In Another Life’, and I really dig it. The synth really stands out in this one, sculpting long-lost landscapes in the back of your mind. It’s atmospheric, to put it mildly. ‘I spent my best years layin’ rubber on a factory line’ is a hauntingly beautiful lyric. ‘Desperate Things’, meanwhile, is another noteworthy track, in the way that it plays like a fever dream. I almost respect the jarring dysfunction of it, as Flowers chants that, ‘You forget how dark the canyon gets’. The tale of a police offer turned vigilante is… chilling, and the man himself has stated, ‘This is probably as dark as I’ve ever gotten’.
Given how much I loved the title track from Imploding the Mirage, I was disappointed with Pressure Machine’s. It’s nice but reminds me of a musical meringue. Sweet, but there’s not a lot really there; especially compared to ‘Desperate Things’, ‘In the Car Outside’ or ‘West Hills’. ‘The Getting’s Good’, though, is a fitting closer, reflecting on the brighter side of small-town life, and working just to survive. It’s a thoughtful composition but didn’t leave the same mark on me that the album’s opener did. I just kept expecting more from the chorus.
Do I love this album? No, not really. And I never expected to. As far as I’m concerned, even for a commercial powerhouse like the Killers, Imploding the Mirage was a lightning-in-a-bottle album. It’s one of the best records of recent history. But the band themselves have tried to distance it from Pressure Machine. Do not go into this expecting another track list of ‘Blowback’s and ‘Caution’s. I really, really like this album. How deeply personal it is, but how anyone can find something in it for them. From farmhands to stockbrokers, princes and thieves. It’s a universal album, and it’s one of the darkest things the Killers have ever done.
But darkness has never sounded so open, so liberating, and so free. I think Pressure Machine will come to be known as the Killers’ underrated gem in years to come. Appreciated fully years later. And I respect that. But I’m damn well gonna like it for now anyway.