The Killers turn to a concept record, loaded with vignettes of life in Utah, to detour from last year's Imploding The Mirage.
Pressure Machine is The Killers’ best album in years. It comes less than a year after 2020’s one-note Imploding The Mirage, a record which wrote the band into a one-trick pastiche pony with wall-to-wall Springsteen worship cranked up to grating arena scale.
This year, the group have retuned a little, penning less garish tunes and reflecting on smalltown America. The Boss is still all over this thing, sure, but Pressure Machine lands a little more soft and a lot more novel than anything since Day & Age. I would despair that these tracks were the ones left on the cutting room floor from the Mirage sessions if this record weren’t such a refreshing package from the band. It’s a welcome detour.
Despite the punky title, Brandon Flowers — just as magnetic a frontman as ever — sounds frothing at the mouth to prove his capacity for lyrical tenderness. He does this by wandering through snapshots of rural America across the record’s 50 minutes, no doubt inspired by or directly describing his upbringing in Utah. Through stories of kids hit by trains, a police officer caught up in scandal and a horse injured in a rodeo, Flowers, with the help of some creative liberties, does a convincing job of observing these accounts and tying them together. Even the album’s most anthemic cuts are underscored by notes of sympathy (“I’m in the car, I just needed to clear my head”). Phoebe Bridgers also shows up on ‘Runaway Horses’ to this effect, delivering a nice and light, if underwhelming, feature.
The interview clips worked into Pressure Machine — real dialogue from those about which Flowers muses — work wonders. They open a great many tracks here; so many, in fact, that an “abridged” version of the record was simultaneously released to streaming services (which feels a shame, as these snippets felt integral to the listening experience). It consistently reminds listeners of the human elements to these stories, and explicitly underpins the whole album with broader concept. This is easily one of the most likeable aspects of the album; it’s strange how a creative choice so simple does so much to bring the 11 tracks together.
If Pressure Machine fumbles anywhere, however, it’s sonically. The production can be spotty (probably explained by the lightning turnaround of the album), with the most bare ballads (‘Terrible Thing’, ‘Desperate Things’) landing a little flat and uninteresting. The most Killers-esque tracks (‘In Another Life’, ‘Quiet Town’) are hit-or-miss; they don’t fall prey to Imploding The Mirage’s tendency for overproduction, but retain the odd chorus volume boost. It can suck the character out of the rustic instrumentation, which is a shame as the inclusion of harmonicas, reverbial lead vocals and mandolin (I think it’s a mandolin, anyway) complements the thematic focus of the album. The best moments are cuts like ‘West Hills’ and the title track for this reason; slow-burn soft-rock numbers which let Flowers sound pensive rather than miserable and trickle in just enough of the band’s typical upbeat DNA to still feel Killers-esque. These are the tracks that, for my money, flagship Pressure Machine.
This record is an enjoyable project from the band. It doesn’t lose sight of their typical sound, but makes just enough of a detour to feel pleasantly novel. It feels like a surprisingly good spin-off to the Killers’ regularly scheduled programming, and is all the more enjoyable for it.
Pressure Machine is out now via Island Records / UMG Recordings. Watch the video for ‘Quiet Town’ here: