What is it about 2017 and the resurgence of all these mid-2000s alt-rock bands? This time it’s The Killers who’ve brought us “The Man”, the lead single off their upcoming album, Wonderful Wonderful. The song is a mish-mash of sound, an alt-rock-disco track that never takes itself too seriously. And if I would trust anyone with that sort of sound in 2017 (besides maybe Panic! At the Disco, who have gone in a different direction over the years), it would be The Killers, whose past albums have always mixed great rock bops with some sort of special Las Vegas playfulness that have made me a fan of their music since Hot Fuss. I wasn’t sure about the song upon first listen and there are weaker parts that make “The Man” not as good as it could have been but overall the song is playful and quirky. There’s great potential in this sort of sound and I’m excited to see what an entire album will look like when we get it.
The production on this song is a weird combination of sonic inspiration. There’s the eclectic indie rock sound that The Killers have always had but this time it’s infused with elements of funk (that electronic bass, though??) and, dare I say it, a vocoder? Not to mention the airy drums–which skew it a bit pop–and grungy guitar, hinting at southern bluesy-rock traditions. Overall, it seems like an alt-rock answer to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic: a smartly crafted hodgepodge of retro inspirations with a modern production. And in the case of “The Man”, the mix of sound is even more outlandish than Mar’s electronic and funk infused R&B, which, although surprisingly great, wasn’t a completely unexpected blend (especially considering the global success of “Uptown Funk”). But The Killers liberal mix of electro-pop/funk alt-rock? Both surprisingly great and unanticipated. Like an Aerosmith/David Bowie/Kraftwerk/The Commodores/Zapp mash up I didn’t realize I needed? And also it doesn’t suck? What?!?
What is especially interesting is that “The Man” actually isn’t the first mid-2000s indie rock band to attempt this sound in the past two weeks but it is by far the best iteration of the style. Remember my (many) misgivings about Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now”? Why did The Killers succeed when Arcade Fire miss the mark so completely? It has a lot to do with understanding the musical history of the genres they are pulling from. Funk, indie pop, and even southern rock from the 1970s are all playful archetypes that never take themselves too seriously, pushing music forward for the sake of how weird or groovy it could be instead of focusing on their own self-importance. The Killers, who already have a history of playful and quirky records, understand this easily and approach “The Man” as a parody of a brag track–the lyrics simplistic and silly–and a love song to the music history they are pulling from. It’s teasing in the vein of “we mock what we love” (and also we make great music). Again, a lot like Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic”. This is precisely why Arcade Fire, who took themselves too seriously in order to make a tone deaf statement, disappoint in their iteration of this type of sound. When trying to emulate the 1970s genres–David Bowie, ABBA, etc.–they failed to understand why these genres sounded the way they did in the first place, perhaps even running counter to their original purpose by forgoing fun for pompous didacticism. In contrast, by being a parody of so many different genres, The Killers are able to make something that is actually good and not try-hard despite the bravado of the lyrics, a well-executed ode to the musical innovation of the 1970s and early 1980s.
That’s not to say there aren’t aspects of “The Man” that left me lukewarm at best. What I especially had problems with was the melodic line of the verse and chorus. It never seemed to build quite where I needed it to and the end of musical phrases often left me feeling underwhelmed. I wish especially the chorus hit harder than the verses but it plays at about the same hype level, leaving me an unsatisfied listener. I do like the melodic line at the end of the pre-hook and the repetitive “who’s the man” at the end of the chorus, but these two instances aren’t enough to make up for melodic weakness in the majority of the song.
All that being said, I think there is a lot of potential in this odd combination of sound that The Killers are pulling from (and there’s so many things going on here I keep thinking of new artists that this sounds like–it’s amazingly complex) and I’m really excited to see them expand upon this sound in a full length album.
Sidenote: I really really want to see this MV. REALLY REALLY. It’s been so long since I’ve had an awkwardly sweet and quirky Killers MV.