The coolest 71 year old man in the universe, the bard from Hibbing sang in his eerily prescient "Ballad of a Thin-Man," "That there's something happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones." I think we all feel that way now, or at least I know that I do. Indulge me.
I am still rubbing my eyes in disbelief and making sure there wasn't any fatal buildup of wax in my ears, because I'm still questioning Wednesday night's debate between the man in the blue tie versus the man in the red tie. I can hardly believe that the man in the blue tie did as miserably as he appeared to have done. I found myself the next morning, with a slight headache and a bad taste in my mouth; as if I had waken to the realisation of a poorly made decision resulting in an unappealing one-night stand. I needed to make a run for it. There are a certain number of my friends who can attest to knowing that feeling; some more than others, and you know who you are.
Does the man who was wearing the blue tie, really want to be President anymore? Or did the man in the red tie do that well? Was the man in the blue tie tired, sick, or was his mind preoccupied with thoughts of his wedding anniversary? Or maybe the man with the blue tie knows that he has an October surprise up his sleeve in the form of an Israeli strike against Iran, or the trouble bubbling over in Syria into Turkey which could then bring the United States military into the mix? Does the man in the red tie or any man or woman in any pant-suit or colored tie for that matter, really want to inherit the mess the United States is in? Were headed for Armageddon, would you want your hands on the wheel of the ship as we head towards the Iceberg? Why else did the film Titanic do so well in the theaters; we all knew the ending, but because it struck at a subconscious nerve in the fact that we know were headed for something truly painful and have to face the music sooner or later? Maybe the man in the blue tie was saying to himself on Wednesday night, "Go ahead Mitt, you can take it from here. I'm gonna go grab the wife and kids and get the hell out of town."
Despite all of the questions floating through my transom, I did hear some deafening sounds emanating from Wisconsin over the pronounced funeral pyre of Big Bird, and that was the sound of hands clapping, high-fives, hoots and hollering coming from somewhere inside Wisconsin; it was the sound of the Koch brothers congratulating themselves on a job well done; their hand-picked boy Ryan was coming up next and the man in the red tie had the country talking comeback. America loves an underdog, until the next fifteen minutes comes around.
On a different note, the fall is a season of change. The season that turns the death of summer into a slow release. It is the season of falling leaves, changing colors and bottles of wine littered amongst the char-coaled remains of quietly burning fires. The smell of clove cigarettes and sandalwood incense sticks. The season of the first and last embrace of a loved one, remembered through streams of consciousness found amidst old spiral notebooks in childlike handwriting.
Fall is the season of the music of Van Morrison. It is listening to "Astral Weeks", "The Philosopher's Stone," "Into the Mystic," and feeling the sensation that you are on spiritual path. Realizing that you are only a spiritual being having a temporary human experience and simply building up knowledge until you have the next awakening. It's the lyrics of Van Morrison trailing off into Coleridge, Wordsworth, Blake and T.S. Eliot in ancient fingers of smoke. It is the shouts of saxophones echoed with the accompanied sounds of the piano organs tiptoed touch, the belted refrains over long distant valleys into the soul of descending sunshine. It is magic.
With this new edition of the Global Outrage of an Educated Man, I am also pleased to announce that we have an added contributor with his own personal touch on all things popular culture. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Hambone.
The Killer’s Fourth album, “Battle Born”, follows the band’s usual journey through the decade of Reagan with mixed results this time around. Since the band’s first release “Hot Fuss”, The Killers have celebrated the ‘80’s synthesized sound with unabashed enthusiasm and mostly positive results. At its best “Battle Born” sounds like the best of ‘80s era Springsteen, Mellencamp, Petty, and U2 backed by the best of ‘80s synthesized music-Duran Duran, Devo, Depeche Mode and The Cure. The worst the album has to offer sounds like a collection of one-hit wonders from the ‘80s, or gasp, something you might hear on American Idol. The Killers haven’t rocked out since “Hot Fuss”, but the type of ballads contained on “Battle Born” sound like they could have been written by any adult contemporary group. I don’t think Brandon Flowers would appreciate a comparison to “Candle In The Wind” Elton John, Richard Marx, or Matchbox 20, but he certainly falls short of the men he clearly aspires to be.
The album begins with a simple synthesized beat, the heartbeat of The Killers pulsing like a mix between “The Safety Dance” and Pac-Man asking you for another quarter. “Flesh and Bone” quickly builds to a lusher Killer’s style song filled with the kind of larger than life themes the band has come to be known for. “Dark Horses,” “force-fields,” “finish lines” and “raging bulls” stand in the bands way. Brandon Flowers sounds as good as ever, he truly has one of the best and most distinctive voices on the radio dial, and when he sings “don’t call me the contender” he lays down the gauntlet for all other current musical acts. The band aims to make songs that will stand the test of time, and they have an impressive back catalog of songs that do just that. “Flesh and Bone” builds to a crescendo that makes you think that The Killers have done it again, but then fails to cross the finish line. It’s the opening track, and a perfect summary of the album.
“Runaways”, the first single of the album, is probably the standout track on the album. One can imagine they will be doing encores of the song for years to come, as it’s sure to become a fan favorite. It has all the elements that the best Killer’s songs have had; great lyrics, a huge sound meant for arenas, and a finish that will have everyone on their feet pumping their fists. If you close your eyes, you could imagine it’s Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora leaning into the microphone, or Bruce Springsteen strutting across the stage. It truly is a celebration of the best the ‘80s had to offer. An 80’s anthem that sounds like it could have come from any of the biggest bands the time period had to offer. “Miss Atomic Bomb” is another standout on the album. Not as musically dynamic as some of the other songs on the album, it has lyrics that one expects from Flowers and company. A first love story, “Miss Atomic Bomb” could easily fall into the fondue, but the words and sentiment somehow stay cheese-free. A less accomplished singer might not pull it off, but the destructive ending to a relationship is captured perfectly through Flowers “atomic” symbolism. “Making out with the radio on” (a Bon Jovi sentiment if there ever were one) becomes Springsteen singing about his “need for a little touch, a little tenderness” before the real battle begins complete with “dust-clouds”, “impact” and “shockwave whispers”. A surprise standout on the album is “From Here On Out.” It’s closer to a country song than it is to a “normal” Killers song, but it’s a fun song. The beat is pure ‘80s country, Juice Newton on steroids, complete with a steel guitar that sounds like it’s recorded backwards. It’s interesting, fresh, and you want to sing along with the backup singers as they croon “from here on out.” It’s also near the end of the album, which means the strongest songs are few and far between.
“Flesh and Bone”, the opener, and ‘Battle-Born” the closing track, are both strong songs. It’s hard to criticize a band for having merely good songs, but The Killers have raised the bar for themselves with each subsequent album. “The Way it Was” is another song that’s good but not great. Lyrics about “Elvis singing don’t be cruel”, “outside the lonely Esmerelda county line” and “maybe a thief stole your heart” will bring to mind Lyle Lovett or even Roy Orbison, but the chorus imploring that things be “the way it was” just fall flat. The entire band is musically talented, and Flower’s has a vocal range any professional singer would envy. Five different producers worked on the album for The Killers, which means that the material may have not been great to begin with. The playing is impeccable, the songs have definite musical movements to them, but in the end they just aren’t strong enough to be considered the bands best.
The low points on the album include several songs best described as ballads. “Here With Me”, “Matter of Time”, and “Deadlines and Commitments” sound like they could be performed by anybody on American Idol. Adult contemporary music certainly has its fans, but Killers fans are sure to be disappointed by these offerings. The lyrics sound like they are some of the most personal Flowers has ever penned, and they are also sung with real sincerity. The problem, in a nutshell, is that they are clichéd and the music backing them is largely flavorless. “Here With Me” is a perfect example of that type of song. “Don’t want your picture on my cell phone/I want you here with me” could be anyone from Taylor Swift to Taylor Hicks. The song is ok, you might whistle along in the elevator, but it’s not likely to make you a bigger fan of the band. “Matter of Time” has an ‘oh-oh-ohhh-ohhh” background vocal that damn nears saves the song before Flowers has to ruin it by singing “Isn’t that what’s it all about/make a promise/you keep it/you figure it out?”. Heartfelt, probably, and maybe based on real life experiences. The problem is, I don’t know if it’s a song or if the band just put some music behind advice from Dr. Phil. “Deadlines and Commitments” sounds like Culture Club with lyrics by Sade or Sting, and it isn’t pretty. The conga drumming is the songs saving grace. The Killers better hope Gloria Estefan doesn’t sue them, the drum loop sounds like they came directly from Miami Sound Machine. “Rising Tide” has Brandon flowers channeling his inner Bill Idol snarling about “pitchfork tongues” and “crucifixions”, and a blistering guitar solo, but only after wading through a boring first minute. “Be Still” and “Heart of a Girl” are also listenable tracks, but not Killer quality.
With “Battle Born”, the Killers attempt to stay at the top of their musical game, but this fourth try feels a little battle-weary. The chops that got them to the top are on full display, but the band seemed unable to continue the fight throughout the album. The band had taken an 18 month break before recording, and perhaps they needed an even longer hiatus. Certainly the bones of the album have been developed. They go for a big sound and big themes again, but have wound up with an album that doesn’t quite get there. The best three songs on the album sound better than anything their contemporaries usually put out, but the rest of the album is merely just good. Most bands would be satisfied with that, but I have a feeling “the contender” would like another shot at the title.
5 Corgans=Buy it
4 Corgans=Burn it
3 Corgans=Stream it
2 Corgans=Mock it
1 Corgan=Punch a band member in the face