The Killers didn’t invent indie rock, and they weren’t the first bright young things to emerge on the thrilling post-punk revival scene in the early noughties. But when the Las Vegas quartet debuted in 2004 with Hot Fuss, an album which spawned four UK Top 20 singles and went on to sell north of seven million copies worldwide, they immediately announced themselves as one of the most distinctive and confident new voices in guitar music. "I want us to be the American U2," frontman Brandon Flowers boldly announced.
In the years since that explosive debut, Flowers' band have undergone some huge stylistic changes: though the personnel remains the same, the musicians we hear duetting with Phoebe Bridgers on Runaway Horses are not the same group of people we heard on Mr Brightside.
Every studio album The Killers have released has topped the UK album chart, and in 2022 perform their celebrated back catalogue in stadiums. Here, then, are those seven albums, ranked in order of greatness.
7. Wonderful Wonderful (2017)
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Wonderful Wonderful was arguably The Killers’ most difficult album to make. It arrived five years after Battle Born and is probably the furthest the band have strayed from anything that might be considered their 'trademark' sounds.
“The dynamic has changed,” Brandon Flowers told Billboard ahead of the album's release. “When we used to start writing, anything was possible. Now, there’s a weight and something looming over us — what we’ve done, if we can do it again. Those things creep into your mind.”
It sounds like an album born from serious graft, with the compositions more mature and intricate, but perhaps over-thought at times: the huge, belting choruses of days gone by are largely missing and Wonderful Wonderful also lacks their usual impeccable lyricism. While we see some interesting songwriting choices with the religious themes of The Calling, it’s undercut by the cheap name-dropping on Out Of My Mind.
If it was hard work for the band, it's often hard work for listeners too.
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6. Battle Born (2012)
Battle Born was something of a comeback album for The Killers, coming after the quartet had taken a hiatus for a couple of years, but commercially, its singles didn’t enjoy the same success as their previous releases. The Killers are at their best when they fully commit to a sound, whether it’s grandiose indie glamour or stripped-back Americana indie folk, and too often Battle Born comes across as a mediocre combination of the two styles.
The album is not without its merits: Runaways is all the evidence you need that The Killers have no problem writing a triumphant, hopeful indie anthem. However, the rest of the album is somewhat stagnant, lacking those standout moments that made the group's earlier work so special.
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5. Sam's Town (2006)
Faced with the challenge of following their own exhilarating debut, The Killers ripped up the rulebook and started again on Sam’s Town. Inspired by their hometown Las Vegas, it was the natural successor to the glitz and glamour of Hot Fuss, showing what happens when the sun rises and you start to sober up.
It's also where we heard Brandon Flowers’ vocals in its natural, raw state for the first time, as he shunned the auto-tune techniques employed on their debut, and allowed more low-key and observational lyrics to cut through. Another huge hit when it came out, with When You Were Young becoming one of the band's most commercially successful singles, it ultimately wouldn’t have the same cultural impact as Hot Fuss.
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4. Imploding the Mirage (2020)
Imploding The Mirage offers yet another take on heartland rock, this time inspired by Utah as opposed to Las Vegas. It was a step forward from Wonderful Wonderful, being more lyric-focused, and with new layers of vocals and experimental instrumentation added to the band's traditional synth-pop.
This album also saw Flowers' group get collaborative, bringing Weyes Blood and k.d. lang into the studio to feature on My God and Lightning Fields respectively. But it’s the titular Imploding The Mirage that scores the most points, a bona fide Killers banger that demonstrates Flowers's vocal expertise. It might not be The Killers’ best album, but this would turn out to be an important step in their sonic evolution.
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3. Day & Age (2008)
For their third album, the band turned back towards the sound and aesthetic of Hot Fuss. The Killers were making anthems again. Human’s slightly nonsensical chorus - "Are we human? Or are we dancer?" - was an instant hit: it may have been roundly mocked, but you’d be hard-pushed to find someone who can’t sing along.
As on Sam’s Town, The Killers used their desert hometown in Nevada as their muse; A Dustland Fairytale is one highlight which documents Flowers' own parents meeting in a trailer park. This character-centred storytelling approach combined with the vibrant dance beats they were experimenting with made Day & Age a thrilling return to form.
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2. Hot Fuss (2004)
Behind its glittering, glamorous facade, Hot Fuss explores themes of jealousy, deceit and even murder, wedded to one unforgettable riff at a time. From the iconic first line of Mr Brightside to the Blur-esque sexual ambiguity of Somebody Told Me, The Killers were clearly on a mission to make generation-defining anthems. And boy did they nail it.
Commercial success isn’t everything, but with Hot Fuss you just can’t argue with the numbers. At the time of writing, Mr Brightside has spent a total of 338 weeks in the UK Charts since it was released, and it’s currently on a 43-week consecutive streak. In December 2019 the Official Charts Company announced the biggest songs of the decade and confirmed that ...Brightside finished the 2010s as the 12th biggest selling single of the decade, some 16 years after its release.
It's not just about one killer single however: Hot Fuss doesn’t just stand up as The Killers’ best album but as one of the finest debut albums of all time.
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1. Pressure Machine (2021)
Pressure Machine is the album that The Killers have been working towards all their lives. It feels like a culmination of their journey towards folk and heartland rock that had been an undercurrent in their music since Sam’s Town. Inspired by Flowers’ childhood in Nephi, Utah, it explores the romanticised view of small-town living, while also shedding light on its much darker reality.
Pressure Machine serves up beautifully-observed modern small-town stories, taking in train accidents (Quiet Town), homophobia (Terrible Thing) and the opioid crisis (West Hill), and most of the tracks open with audio clips of real residents of Nephi speaking about their town. It takes Pressure Machine beyond the realms of mere 'concept album' and makes it almost a documentary of small-town American life. And it’s that last stroke of genius that propels The Killers' latest release into the top spot here.
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