Superheroes are always telling us their origin stories. Well here’s the formative life of Killers frontman Brandon Flowers. How did this quiet Mormon from Nevada acquire that neon pink dinner jacket and become Mr Brightside?
The Killers rose in the early 2000s in Las Vegas and much of the sparkle of that city rubbed off on their early music, with those gleaming synth lines decorating indie rock anthems that were born to be hollered by huge crowds. That debut single in particular, Mr Brightside, has become an enduring classic in the UK in particular, where it recently set a new record by spending five entire years inside the top 100.
But between the ages of 10 and 16, Flowers was living 340 miles north in Nephi, Utah, a town with a population of 6,000 named after one of the main characters in the Book of Mormon. His sister and her family still live there. I had an explore on Google Street View and it looks nice but quiet, with houses widely spaced and snow-capped mountains not far off. The big attraction seems to be the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum.
The band released an album a year ago, Imploding the Mirage, full of euphoric crowd pleasers ready for another stadium tour. But the pandemic kept them at home, the tour now won’t hit London until next June, and Flowers started writing lyrics – before there was any more music – about his formative years.
Recalling the blue collar poetry of less bombastic Bruce Springsteen albums such as Nebraska and Darkness on the Edge of Town, the small town lives fictionalised here aren’t exactly an advert for Nephi. In West Hills, somebody goes to prison for possession of “hillbilly heroin pills”. In Desperate Things, a policeman falls for a domestic abuse victim and murders her husband. Authenticity is added by speech samples from current residents between the songs: a woman complaining that she wasn’t allowed to hunt deer until she was 12; a man talking about how often someone gets hit by the local train.
The band’s way with a big chorus is still evident on Quiet Town, but these are quiet songs, trimmed with violin, harmonica and mandolin, designed for immersion in the dusty atmospheres of the words rather than punching the air in a football stadium. After a year in which the world has been in forced retreat, Pressure Machine is a powerful hit of someone else’s nostalgia.