When the Killers set out to record what would become their fifth studio album, Wonderful Wonderful, which will come out next month, the band members decided they wanted to act their ages. "I don't want to chase what's on the radio," says Brandon Flowers, who's seated with drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. in the secluded lobby of an upscale Manhattan hotel. "The best way to put it is that I wanted to inhabit my age, so it's a snapshot – a true representation of where we're at."
Musically, they achieved that on the record, which features a guest appearance by Mark Knopfler on "Have All the Songs Been Written," with deep keyboard textures and their typically big choruses. The title track is a dusky mood piece that recalls later Depeche Mode and maybe a little Talk Talk, while singles like "Run for Cover" and "The Man" hark back to the upbeat, danceable post–New Wave pop-rock that defined their early hits – just with a little more rhythmic oomph. Elsewhere, they explore pastoral sounding synthesisers on "Rut," which sports shades of Springsteen in its shimmery strings, and on "Some Kind of Love," an almost ethereal meditation on love that was based on a motif originally written by Brian Eno, called "An Ending," that had appeared on his Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks LP in 1983.
Guiding them through the recording of the album in their own Battle Born Studios was producer Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., U2, Bloc Party). "He pushed all of us in all sorts of directions," Flowers says. "Sometimes music and the emotion behind it is very hard to explain. He has a gifted way of explaining it. So we worked on it together."
"He gets the bigger picture," Vannucci says. "We've worked with other people who might be better in their little corner of expertise or something like that, but as far as a broad strokes, holistic approach, it felt like he sort of understood the band and what we needed to achieve in making this record."
Lee also helped Flowers in his quest to make a more mature album, lyrically. "I talked to him about wanting to make a more grown-up record. It's a scary word to say 'adult,' so we say 'grown-up,'" the singer says with a laugh. "He pushed back a couple times on things, and that makes you reevaluate it. And sometimes he may have won, and sometimes maybe I won. But it's always good to have those conversations and conflicts."
Overall, Flowers feels like he made progress on one major front. "I put more of an effort to be more personal on this record," Flowers says. To open up, the 36-year-old reflected on turning 21 for the tongue-in-cheek lyrics to "The Man" ("I was doing things that I thought maybe a man should do, but I was still just a kid," he says), he tapped into the vulnerability he felt as a child in 1990 watching Buster Douglas knock out then-undefeated Mike Tyson and realising "nothing lasts forever" (the soaring "Tyson vs. Douglas") and he sang words of support to his wife, who suffers complex PTSD stemming from childhood traumas (the atmospheric "Some Kind of Love"). "It's really emotional," he says of the last tune. "I played that for her, and she just sobbed."
That emotional authenticity has been the band's guiding beacon throughout the recording. "Yesterday, we listened to a bunch of songs by different artists and nobody told us who did what," Vannucci says. "Some stuff was very honest and other stuff was very custom-fit for a certain demographic – it was three minutes and 14 seconds, and it got to the chorus in less than 30 seconds. It was totally predictable and kind of lame – and it was guys approaching 50 doing it. Nothing seemed true."
Even before that listening exercise, though, quality control was important to the band as they made Wonderful Wonderful. For Vannucci, the idea of being true to himself was a guiding force."The thing that keeps us honest is our integrity," he says. "We're just trying to be that listener when we were 15, 20 years old and trying to recognise that honesty in other artists."
For Flowers, it was the people he loved who would be listening to it. "The thing that keeps me honest is my kids," he offers. "They're gonna have to face what I'm putting out one day, and I want them to be proud. I also want to be able to walk into a restaurant with my head held high."
Topics: The Killers