“Runaways” – the album’s first single – makes little effort to hide its Springsteen sensibility in its lyrics and music video imagery. A fast-paced toe-tapper, the single encompasses both the escape promised in Born to Run ("Let’s take a chance baby we can't lose") and the sinking feeling of failure in Darkness on the Edge of Town ("I recognize the girl but I can't settle in these walls").
In addition to similar themes and evocative lyrics, it’s the strong sense of location that creates the clearest connection to Springsteen. The Killers are resolutely a product of Las Vegas: the shallow characters they sing about, the flashy excess of their music and the lack of a real band identity. Like Vegas, they are nothing and everything at the same time.
Since the breakout success of “Somebody Told Me” in 2004, front man Brandon Flowers has been working really hard to distinguish The Killers as something more than the pop confection they were perceived to be when they first hit the scene. He's had some minor success in doing so. Over the years, his imagery has gotten much more distinct without letting go of the pop trappings that defined them. Critical response has been middling throughout their career though and reviews for Battle Born aren’t glowing.
In the face of critical shrugs, The Killers have slowly revealed an unexpected depth to their music. Their storytelling isn’t as vivid and the characters aren’t as nuanced as the ones you’ll find in Springsteen’s music but certain tracks like “Heart of a Girl” (Battle Born) or “Dustland Fairytale” (Day & Age), paint a strong picture with a clear sense of time and place.
If the above sounds overly critical of The Killers, it’s perhaps an effort to protect myself from worshiping them. I’ve loved The Killers ever since I bought Hot Fuss and I’ll never stop. I haven't been able to embrace them unashamedly though. I always feel the need to qualify or justify my appreciation. No matter how hard they try or how clear their ties to Springsteen, I don’t think that will ever change.
Here are my selections for The Killers’ most Springsteen-sounding songs:
Heart of a Girl
For Reasons Unknown
When You Were Young