The Killers' latest album, Battle Born, may or may not be their best record, but it's certainly the most Killers-sounding record. That's a compliment.
Four albums in, and following a lengthy break between releases, the Las Vegas natives have come damn close to nailing their own sound. There are still elements of U2, Fleetwood Mac and Springsteen, but this time they're mostly handpicking from their own legacy.
Recently home from taking the new live show on the road in the UK, drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr is taking a couple of day's rest before heading out on a few dates in the US followed by a trip to Australia to co-headline next month's Big Day Out alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Vannucci agrees on the quality of Battle Born, but is mindful of there being plenty more Killers still to come. "Pound for pound I think the songs are better on this record than our previous records. I'm always going to have second thoughts about performances - the way it sounds and things like that - but I think at the end of the day it comes down to the song and how these songs are translating. I'm really proud of it, man, but at the same time I feel like we have a distance left to run."
Perhaps most surprising is how consistent it is considering the different producers who worked on the album, including Brendan O'Brien, Daniel Lanois, Stuart Price, Alan Moulder and Steve Lillywhite. Vannucci puts it down to the band's steely resolve.
"That was really scary at first because we didn't know if it was going to be cohesive," he says. "We didn't know if having used five different guys was going to suit the songs. But I think it was a real testament to how the band is and how we do things - how heavy-handed or bull-headed we can be with our songs.
"We didn't want to work with five different people; it was just a scheduling nightmare. We had to take people as they were available and we'd leave it to the last minute to book these guys and of course they're the ones that every body wants to work with, so they're busy."
Battle Born also sees the Killers trying power ballads for the first time. Here With Me is the lighters-in-the-air ballad we've been waiting 10 years for Bon Jovi to release, with the twist being that it's about the modern-day concert lighter, the mobile phone, its chorus soaring on the back of the lyric: "Don't want your picture/On my cell phone/ I want you here with me". That one's been really good in the UK," Vannucci says. "That was one the UK especially embraced and to be fair it's been the only place that we've toured so far. Who knows how it's going to go in the States or Australia, I hope it goes well.
"It's a little bit of a ballsy move to reintroduce a power ballad 20 years later, there hasn't really been many power ballads. It's a lot of fun to play and it's cool to do that song in the arenas. It just reminds me of watching MTV when I was 12."
Vannucci says Here With Me evolved out of a joke he had at the expense of Travis frontman Fran Healy, who was the opening act on Killers' singer Brandon Flowers' solo tour. "Fran was getting ready to do a solo record too, doing this little Fran on the acoustic guitar thing, which I dubbed Fran Halen," the drummer says. "And that song came up, and we completed it and made it into this saga."
Renowned for having one of the biggest live shows in the world, keeping things real for the Battle Born tour has lead to an interesting innovation that might find its way to Australian audiences.
"We've taken the approach in some instances of stripping things back and going the opposite way," Vannucci says. "One of our favourite things to do is come out with all the lights on, instead of having it dark, and then you shut them off and it f…s with people's minds a bit. It's a lot of fun and people go ape s…, because they're expecting this line to be drawn between the audience and the make-believe.
"So we've taken that approach and stripped it back that way, and then at other times we're really entering an alternate universe with the lights, pyro and lasers and s... like that so I guess you just have to see."Battle Born is out now. The Killers play Big Day Out at Claremont Showground on January 28. Tickets from Ticketmaster.
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