“Radio-friendly style over substance.” That was the verdict from Pitchfork upon the June 7, 2004 release of the debut album by a Las Vegas quartet being heavily hyped by the U.K. music press, back when being heavily hyped by the U.K. music press really meant something.

Hot Fuss floats boatloads of blasé lyrics about the pressures of being fabulous and the politics of fucking over an easily sippable blend of ’80s and ’90s British pop influences rarely pausing to test the end product,” opined the site on the The Killers’ first album. “Top-shelf mixing and attention to melody helps out the record’s appeal as lifestyle music for sheltered bloggers and female professionals who still wear cool hairstyles.” If you’re wondering if there’s even faint backhanded praise lurking in that comment, consider the thoroughly mediocre score of 5.2.

Pitchfork’s skepticism echoed the naysaying from the hippest corners of the music media, who dismissed The Killers as carpetbaggers riding the NYC-centric “rock is back!” scene associated with bands like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And there was some truth to that — The Killers would not have had a lane if not for those chic acts from Manhattan. The only problem (for those who viewed The Killers as a problem) was songs. The Killers had them. Lots of them. More than the competition. And they were designed to take over the world.

Twenty years later it can be said that Hot Fuss has — at the very least — reached an audience beyond sheltered bloggers and female professionals. After going triple platinum in the mid-aughts, it has proven to be one of the more streamed rock records of its time, boasting four songs that have been played at least 100 million times on Spotify and one track, “Mr. Brightside,” that has sailed past the two-billion mark. While the band has put out other hit records, Hot Fuss and Hot Fuss alone has kept The Killers in arenas and the upper echelon of music-festival posters as they have approached middle age. (They are playing the album in full in August at Caesars Palace in Vegas.)

In honor of the album’s anniversary, I decided to explore the band’s discography. After a lot of listening and ruminating, I am now comin’ out of my cage. And I’ve been doing just fine! My column begins not with a kiss, but rather a music video …

Pre-List Entertainment: The Band From The New Order Video



If you are familiar with The Killers’ origin story — or you simply have kept up with latter-day New Order albums — you are aware that the band name derives from the fictional ensemble featured in the video for 2001’s “Crystal.” Whether you love or hate The Killers, this story will confirm your preexisting biases. For the haters, it aligns with their perception of The Killers as empty poseurs recycling the highs of 1980s rock. For supporters, well, the video is pretty damn boss, isn’t it? And isn’t it funny how the band in the video sounds a lot like Hot Fuss?

Setting aside the New Order connection: The Killers are the most aptly named band of their generation. No other act of the Meet Me In The Bathroom generation was as ruthless about pursuing the biggest audience possible. They were not like The Strokes. Brandon Flowers was not about to react to media hype by getting political and recording 10-minute art-rock songs with a side project band. The Killers were like The Strokes if The Strokes had wanted to be like U2. When it came to pursuing rock stardom, they were cold-blooded sociopaths. The Killers were killers.

Consider that guitarist Dave Keuning later recalled a pre-fame, early ’00s conversation with Brandon Flowers about their prospects. “I remember asking Brandon, ‘So you want to be big, right?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah,’” he told Rolling Stone in 2008. At the time, they didn’t even have a rhythm section yet. But they did have “Mr. Brightside.” They played it at their very first show, situated at some random coffee shop near the UNLV campus. In the history of world-conquering rock bands, I’m guessing this is the first time that a group debuted with a tune that would go on to be streamed more than two billion times. Even then, The Killers had murder on their minds.

30. “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll” (2007)



There’s no getting around it with this band: To appreciate The Killers, you must respect their killer instinct. A lot of people don’t, particularly the rival bands from the aughts that did not create a song with a comically resilient run on the British pop charts. “We had conversations that went along the lines of “Gosh, I think our songs are better than ‘Mr. Brightside’ by the Killers, but how come that’s the one everyone is listening to?” Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi says in Meet Me In The Bathroom. And here’s Valensi’s answer: “They did it a different way. They recorded it in a different way. They promoted it in a different way. We could be that big.”

Right next to Valensi in the book is a quote from rock journalist Jenny Eliscu that goes beyond Valensi’s “slick production and canny promotion” theory of Killers supremacy. “It’s important to state that there’s a difference between the underground and hipsters. The underground is real and permanent. It’s more art than it is commerce. The Killers … and King Of Leon were never part of the underground. Fuck no.”

There are two ways to read this quote. The first is the obvious way, which is how (I think) it was intended: It absolutely slags The Killers. It posits The Strokes as the true paragon of the rock underground, which allegedly hampered their chances of success, and positions The Killers as the aforementioned “empty poseur” alternative.

The second way is less obvious, and it’s (probably) not what was intended, but (to me) is nevertheless truer than the first way: The Killers were never part of the underground, and never tried to be. They instead set out to make (to quote a Hot Fuss outtake rerecorded for 2007’s “odds and sods” collection Sawdust) “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll.” What is glamorous indie rock & roll? Does it really need explaining? The meaning strikes me as self-evident. It’s like indie music, only more glamorous and more rock & roll. So not really indie music at all.

Is it “real”? Depends on what you mean by “real.” Is it permanent? Clearly.

29. “Everything Will Be Alright” (2004)

I have come around to believing that The Killers’ discography is deeper than it gets credit for. For instance, I will soon argue that Sam’s Town is a very strong follow-up to Hot Fuss. (Could one contend that Sam’s Town is an “initially misunderstood but gradually acclaimed sophomore” LP, a Pinkerton of the 2000s, if you will? One could! And perhaps one will!) I also believe that the two most recent Killers LPs, 2020’s Imploding The Mirage and 2021’s Pressure Machine, rank with their best and amount to one of the great mid-career comebacks in recent music history.

But facts are facts: Hot Fuss is unquestionably the best work they ever did. It’s the record that secured The Killers’ current status as the one rock band that gets booked to headline mid-tier music festivals. And it will surprise absolutely no one that there is a lot of Hot Fuss on this list. As I was writing this column, I realized that Hot Fuss might very well be the last great 20th-century alternative rock album. Even though it came out in 2004, Hot Fuss is spiritually the last link in a chain of classic alt records from the ’80s and ’90s. If you heard Hot Fuss without any context, you would place it closer to Heartbeat City or The Queen Is Dead than you would Is This It or Fever To Tell. It feels like one of those college-rock warhorses where the trappings are moody and alienated but every song is exceedingly poppy and indestructibly catchy. They’re not really a vinyl band. The Killers are a CD band (with a cracked jewel case) through and through.

A motif of this sort of record is the spooky album closer. “Everything Will Be Alright” is that song on Hot Fuss, and it links the album to “spooky alt-rock closer” records of yesteryear, from Disintegration to Achtung Baby to Siamese Dream.

28. “Believe Me Natalie” (2004)



A common criticism of Hot Fuss from people who actually like the record is that it’s front-loaded. If you’re thinking in terms of hits, this observation is irrefutable. “Mr. Brightside” is the second track, “Somebody Told Me” is the fourth track, and “All These Things That I Have Done” is the fifth track. The songs around those numbers weren’t singles, but they seem like singles. The evidence is clear. Side One of Hot Fuss is a brick house.

Some have gone as far to say that Side Two, in comparison, is weak. Or that Hot Fuss would be improved if the tracks were put in a different, more equitable sequence. But these people are dead wrong. Side Two of Hot Fuss is great in the same way that Side Two of The Joshua Tree — another notoriously front-loaded record — is also great. Side Two is what you put on when you are sick of “Mr. Brightside” or “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It’s the “less crowded” lounge located in a side room of a popular restaurant. It’s the chillout tent at the music festival. It’s a good hang. More canonical records should offer a respite on Side Two that contrasts with the barrage of smashes on Side One. On Hot Fuss, “Believe Me Natalie” is that chill respite.

27. “All The Pretty Faces” (2007)

“I could get shot for this, but I don’t think having a museum in your town makes you better than anyone else. I’m really sick of that attitude. Maybe that’s me being ignorant, but we did fine without it. I mean, you can watch movies and read books, and there is music, you’ve just got to find it. We did it all on our own.”

That was Brandon Flowers in a 2004 Spin interview after being pressed about growing up in the small Utah town of Nephi, a place referenced explicitly on Pressure Machine and implicitly on Sam’s Town as well as scores of other Killers songs. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find Flowers’ small-town romanticism/resentment endearing, especially when positioned against the relentless NYC worship that was prevalent when The Killers emerged. “Rock band with unglamorous roots embraces a glamorous rock band aesthetic” is dime-store psychoanalysis, but in this case I think it happens to be 100 percent true. The Killers kill because it was the only way for them to make it.

Sam’s Town, famously, is the album where they allowed that ambition to tip into megalomania. Though, again, if you appreciate this band’s killer instinct, that is a feature of the record, not a bug. My feelings about Sam’s Town have only grown warmer over the years, but one criticism I still have is that they didn’t include the heavy riffing “All The Pretty Faces” on the record. Flowers once claimed — in one of his many self-aggrandizing “I’m going to make music critics hate me” promotional interviews for Sam’s Town — that the deep cut “Uncle Jonny” has one of the greatest guitarist riffs in rock history. I love that song (more on that in a moment), but he was wrong on that one. However, if he had said the same about “All The Pretty Faces,” I could be talked into going along with it.

26. “Run For Cover” (2017)



A minute ago I casually asserted that the run of Killers albums in the 2020s amounts to one of the great mid-career comebacks in recent music history. This speaks to how much I like Imploding The Mirage and Pressure Machine, and also how much I did not like 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful. In my review, I said The Killers appeared to be on their last legs, and — at the time — I meant it. This seemed to be true artistically (Wonderful Wonderful is easily the worst Killers album), but also structurally (bassist Mark Stoermer had recently stopped touring with the band, and Keuning was about to commence his own hiatus).

Rereading the column, I think I was too dismissive of the band’s past and legacy, particularly this sentence (which is basically the thesis of the piece): “For as long as I’ve listened to The Killers (going back to 2004’s Hot Fuss, which seems like an impossibly long time, what have I done with my life?) I’ve never quite figured out a seemingly straightforward question: Is this band good or terrible?”

Seven years later, I am solidly on the side of The Killers being good. What I would say now is hopefully more nuanced and amounts to this: “On the way to making their best songs The Killers have exhibited a reckless disregard for the possibility that those tunes might turn out to be terrible. They play with motifs — rock clichés, grandiose musical gestures, unbridled emotionalism — that linger on the precipice of potential disaster before they are delivered to the promised land on the back of a hurricane (to borrow the weather-oriented parlance of “When You Were Young”).

My favorite song on Wonderful Wonderful is “Run For Cover,” which I love in spite of (or perhaps because of) the following lyrics: “I saw Sonny Liston on the street last night / black-fisted and strong singing ‘Redemption Song’ / he motioned me to the sky / I heard heaven and thunder cry.” Now you know why the record is called Wonderful Wonderful.

25. “Terrible Thing” (2021)

When I interviewed Flowers in 2021, he all but admitted that Wonderful Wonderful was a dud. (“We were drifting a little bit,” he allowed.) Perhaps he was still on a high after making Pressure Machine, the downtrodden song cycle inspired by Nephi interspersed with audio interviews featuring locals speaking on their dashed dreams and the fleeting escape offered by opioids. It’s one of the more fascinating records to come out this decade — a genuinely uncommercial gesture by a superstar act about a part of the country that the media otherwise ignores. Not every song is successful, and Flowers’ lyrical approach can sometimes lean broad bordering on generic. But Pressure Machine ultimately feels like the most wholly unique record in The Killers’ catalog, and the culmination of Flowers’ career-long obsession with melding dusty Americana with British rock atmosphere.

Pressure Machine was categorized in some quarters as Nebraska cosplay, but that’s only true of “Terrible Thing,” which nods to the familial psychodramas of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 masterpiece as well as that album’s lo-fi sound. “‘Terrible Thing’ is recorded on the Tascam,” he told me, proudly, referencing the home studio unit that Bruce worked with. “The actual Tascam is in the Hall of Fame, so you can’t get that one, but we found the model.”

24. “In Another Life” (2021)



Supposedly there is a new Killers album in the can that Flowers doesn’t want to release because he would rather make records like Pressure Machine. That’s according to an interview he gave to The Times last year. “The Killers are my identity and our songs fill the seats, but I’m more fulfilled making music like Pressure Machine. I found a side of myself writing it that was strong. This was the guy I’d been looking for! I’m as proud of Hot Fuss as you can be for something you did when you were 20, but I’m not 20. So I’m thinking about the next phase of my life.”

If you have been reading Brandon Flowers’ interviews for 20 years like I have, you will recognize that different versions of this statement have been repeated over and over. “Serious” Brandon Flowers vs. “Rock Star” Brandon Flowers is the central theme of the man’s front-facing persona. To pick one example out of thin air, here’s a quote from that 2008 Rolling Stone profile: “One day I want to be dead serious, and the next I just want to write great pop songs and have fun. I don’t have any kind of clear direction. I don’t know if I’d want to.”

I am not questioning his sincerity when he says things like this. I only wonder if there is actually that much of a gap between the two Brandons. For instance: “In Another Life” is a character study about a blue-collar guy (“I spent my best years laying rubber on a factory line”) who ponders the proverbial “more interesting path” he might have taken. It is unmistakably a “Serious” Brandon Flowers song. But musically, “In Another Life” is a shiny synth-rock number recorded at a slightly lower fidelity. It is also a “Rock Star” Brandon Flowers song.

These sides can clearly coexist! They clearly coexist in this particular song!

23. “A Dustland Fairytale” (2008)

Brandon Flowers likes to write about small towns, which is apparent from the documentary approach of Pressure Machine. But he also likes to write about “small towns,” a dramatically heightened version of reality that is partly passed down from “Thunder Road,” and partly passed down from “Livin’ On A Prayer.” A place where dreamers named Johnny or Tommy or Maria or Jenny struggle to survive and thrive. Flowers doesn’t view these clichés via the knowing perspective of a songwriter like Craig Finn, whose earnestness is leavened with a sly wit that deconstructs classic-rock tropes. If Finn wrote “A Dustland Fairytale,” it would winkingly reference Neil Schon or Stevie Nicks while depicting a messianic tale of doomed, gutter-trash love. But that is not Flowers’ way. He doesn’t joke about this stuff. He reveres rock clichés like Saint Francis Of Assisi revered self-punishment as a way of glorifying the Lord. (The Lord in this case being The Boss, who naturally appeared in a remake of the song in 2021.)

22. “Change Your Mind” (2004)



Another mainstay of Hot Fuss Side Two, not to be confused with “Read My Mind” from Side One of Sam’s Town, which is coming up on this list soon.

21. “Running Toward A Place” (2020)

While Brandon Flowers has been wrapped up spiritually and creatively in the relatively scaled-back insularity of Pressure Machine, The Killers did prove they could effectively re-enter the arena-rock anthem business in their 40s on the previous LP, Imploding The Mirage. What helped The Killers rediscover their mojo was getting into The War On Drugs, a band to which Flowers and drummers Ronnie Vannucci have expressed their admiration and willingness to actually join. But even without that praise, they would have telegraphed their devotion to A Deeper Understanding with “Running Toward A Place,” whose title is reminiscent of “Thinking Of A Place” and whose music recalls “Nothing To Find.” (Adam Granduciel actually plays on the song “Blowback,” which doesn’t sound much at all like a War On Drugs song. It’s more like Muse attempting to emulate All That You Can’t Leave Behind.)

20. “Caution” (2020)



You know who likes Imploding The Mirage even more than I do? Brandon Flowers. “This is kind of our Achtung Baby, without copying that record,” he told me. To be clear: He made the connection because Imploding The Mirage and Achtung Baby are both the seventh albums in the respective bands’ discographies. There is no other reason to liken Imploding The Mirage to Achtung Baby. (If we’re talking in terms of albums that depart significantly from a band’s signature sound, Pressure Machine is The Killers’ Achtung Baby.)

However, The Killers do have the upper hand on U2 in one respect: On “Caution,” The Killers got Lindsey Buckingham to play his best circa 2021 version of the guitar solo from “The Chain.” Is this as good as “The Fly”? Not exactly. But it’s in the parking lot outside of that ballpark.

19. “Spaceman” (2008)

Confession time: I own every Killers album. I am not bragging about this. I am divulging it for the sake of transparency. I want you to know what kind of sicko you are dealing with here.

Of those albums, Hot Fuss is the one that is good all the way through. Sam’s Town is about 80 percent good. The rest are about 65 to 75 percent good. (Except for Wonderful Wonderful, which is 33 percent good.) The one with the greatest variance between good and not good is Day & Age. This album contains some of their very best tunes — including “Spaceman,” their 19th best — and some of their weakest. (I don’t remember the last time I listened to “Neon Tiger” all the way through.)

18. “Human” (2008)



This is the song everybody knows from Day & Age, and the one line that everybody knows from “Human” (of course) is the awkwardly worded chorus, in which Flowers asks, “Are we human? Or are we dancer?” And the reason everybody knows that line is because nobody understands what in the bloody hell Flowers is talking about. The binary between humanity and choreography is not commonly recognized. But I think I know what he means. I think this is Brandon Flowers wrestling (again) with his central thematic concern: Am I a serious guy? Or am I a rock star? In Flowers’ mind, seriousness is conflated with the most authentic parts of life, whereas rock stardom is for mindless fun and joyful prancing. But (as we have established) he is wrong about these worldviews being separate — particularly for The Killers and especially for this song, which is undoubtedly silly and potentially profound.

17. “Sam’s Town” (2006)

Upon the 10th anniversary of Sam’s Town, I wrote an appreciation of the record that at the time probably seemed contrarian but now seems … less contrarian? It’s generally accepted that Sam’s Town is solidly the second-best Killers record. And — like most acts of musical grandiosity from a more lucrative time in the music business, at least for rock bands — there’s a fearless bravado to Sam’s Town that’s aged from annoying to endearing. That also goes for Brandon Flowers’ press tour in support of Sam’s Town, which is matched only by Pure Comedy era Father John Misty in the annals of consistent musician interview excellence. (Matty Healy wishes he could approach the transcendent obnoxiousness of Brandon Flowers in his prime.) “I’d put it up against OK Computer. I’d put it up against Achtung Baby,” he boasted to Blender about Sam’s Town at the time. “It’s what I’m here for: Thom Yorke’s not gonna make another OK Computer; he’s making a bunch of noise.”

And he didn’t stop there! “I was reading an old interview with Springsteen about how he went into Born to Run wanting to make the best rock ‘n’ roll album that’d ever been made. People think it’s pretentious, but I looked at that album and I looked at Hunky Dory, and Springsteen and Bowie were 24 when they made them. I was like, ‘I’ve got to up the ante.’”

The irony, of course, is that Flowers had already made the album that would help to define his era of mainstream, big-time rock music. And it was not Sam’s Town. But I still love it. And I still love the title track.

16. “Uncle Jonny” (2006)



The song that media-crazed ’06 Brandon Flowers claimed in an NME interview had “one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time.” (In the same article he likened “Sam’s Town” to The Beatles’ “Penny Lane.”) Anyway: “Uncle Jonny” falls short if you go in expecting one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time. If, however, you go in expecting a character study about a small-town cokehead set to some pleasingly buzzsaw-sounding six-string action, you will be satisfied.

INTERMISSION



Did you think we would get through this without revisiting the finest cinematic moment of The Killers’ (and Justin Timberlake’s) career?

15. “Goodnight, Travel Well” (2008)

The finest spooky album closer in The Killers’ arsenal. Slow songs generally are not this band’s strength — nobody listens to The Killers when they’re feeling contemplative — so that makes the glowering “Goodnight, Travel Well” doubly impressive. Interpol was the aughts band that garnered the most Joy Division comparisons, but they never got their Closer on like The Killers do here.

14. “On Top” (2004)



More Hot Fuss Side Two excellence. Kurt Cobain once expressed regret that he didn’t space out the songs on Nevermind over several albums, implying that the lesser-known tracks would have hit like potential smashes if they were surrounded by conventional filler tracks. A similar case could be made for a song like “On Top,” an irresistible synth-rock banger with an excellent keyboard hook that is regarded as an afterthought on an album overloaded with popular tunes.

13. “In The Car Outside” (2021)

A thoroughly Killers-esque construction. You take music that evokes a million post-punk songs that held down countless episodes of 120 Minutes and you marry it to a narrative that crossbreeds Tunnel Of Love (the guy in the song laments his failing marriage) and an irony-free reading of “Glory Days” (he eventually hits up a girl he knew in high school). I know this reads like copypasta but as music it is [chef’s kiss].

12. “Midnight Show” (2004)



I know I have referenced U2 a lot in this column, but The Killers also reference U2 a lot. At their best, these references are very specific. And they aren’t necessarily obvious. Flowers might invoke Achtung Baby in interviews, but The Killers don’t really emulate that version of U2 all that much musically. And while the beards and vests of Sam’s Town are reminiscent of The Joshua Tree sartorially, The Killers don’t get dusty in that way, either. The most common U2 touchtone for The Killers is All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which makes sense given that was the record released right as The Killers were getting going. And then there’s “Midnight Show,” which zeroes in on U2’s War period so perfectly that you can practically smell the flaming torches circling Red Rocks when it comes on.

11. “Read My Mind” (2006)



The other criticism of Sam’s Town that I have not reconsidered is about the mix, which — in the manner of countless aughts-era rock records — is pitched at a “stupid loud” level. This makes Sam’s Town sound distorted if you turn it up in the car, which is precisely what you want to do when Sam’s Town is on in the car. Some listeners complained about this in the moment, prompting Flowers to defend the mix. (“Maybe we’re going deaf, but we like it that way,” he told Rolling Stone.) It’s a shame because there are some lovely melodies on Sam’s Town, and none are more lovely than “Read My Mind.” Though not even maniacally compressing that song can rob it of all its beauty. (The Boygenius cover puts a lot of that beauty back in.)

10. “Smile Like You Mean It” (2004)



Let’s pause on the Side Two of Hot Fuss talk and push play on the Side One of Hot Fuss conversation. Is it the greatest Side One of any rock album from the aughts? If it’s not, it’s in the Top Five and it’s at five, four, or three. The trio of big hits from Side One are still ahead of us on the list but for now respect must be paid to “Smile Like You Mean It.” How good is “Smile Like You Mean It”? It’s so good that The Killers put it between “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me” and felt confident that listeners would not immediately skip it. And they haven’t.

9. “Runaways” (2012)

The only song from Battle Born on the list, but it’s a heavy hitter. The album overall has a level of try-hard energy that’s extreme even by Killers’ standards. On the cover, a sports car plays a game of chicken with a rampaging stallion against a desolate landscape. That’s the definition of writing a check your ass can’t cash, though they certainly put up a valiant effort. The stable of superstar producers corralled for the project — Brendan O’Brien, Steve Lillywhite, Daniel Lanois — amounts to the rock equivalent of the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers. And like that team, The Killers didn’t want the championship on Battle Born. But “Runaways” is a “slam dunk launched from the free throw line” of a song, a shot of adrenaline that sends the record briefly (and spectacularly) toward the heavens.

8. “For Reasons Unknown” (2006)



My favorite Sam’s Town anecdote (that I haven’t already shared) concerns Brandon Flowers’ mustache. In the mid-’00s, Brandon Flowers’ mustache was a polarizing cultural force that divided artists and pundits. On one side was Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, who reached out to Flowers’ personally to express his concern over the obtrusive facial hair. On the other side was famed photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn, who assured Brandon that the follicles signified gravitas and artistic fortitude. Yet again, we see “Serious” Brandon pitted against “Rock Star” Brandon in a street-cred death match. And — one more time — the war was wholly unnecessary, as “For Reasons Unknown” shows. This song is pure pop. This song is uplifting rock. It evinces a mustache that is soft yet supple.

7. “My Own Soul’s Warning” (2020)



I don’t want to be melodramatic here, but you know a song is special when you remember the first time you heard it. (A song can also be special if don’t remember the first time you heard it — see every other song in the Top 10 of this list.) Anyway: I remember the first time I heard “My Own Soul’s Warning.” I was out on The Killers at the time and I had zero expectations that the song would be any good. I looked at the title and scoffed. What in the world does “my own soul’s warning” mean? Is this just a more convoluted way of saying “feelings”? Then I listened. And I could instantly sense that The Killers were prepping to kill once again. The part where Flowers yells “But man … I thought I could fly!” hit and I knew it was over. Brandon Flowers really was flying. And I really was flying. Jesus, they did it! I was back on board.

6. “Andy You’re A Star” (2004)

I like (most of) the aughts era NYC bands. I enjoy the tunes and I appreciate the lore. But it is an indictment of that scene that they could not produce a decadent glam rock jam as good as the best effort by a band from the western desert led by teetotaling Mormon. Paul Banks, I love you, but you must hang your head in shame.

5. “Somebody Told Me” (2004)

Then there’s this song. This song must have really pissed off the Manhattanites. When dance punk was fashionable for five minutes and it seemed like The Rapture might become huge, “Somebody Told Me” was precisely the sort of can’t-miss pop confection that was needed to put that DFA sound over the top. If was as if the NYCers got the ball into the red zone, but then The Killers took the pigskin and punched it into the end zone.

When the world heard “Somebody Told Me,” they assumed that The Killers wanted to be Duran Duran. Even better: They seemed like they were the new Duran Duran. They weren’t, but only because they didn’t want to be. (But they could have been.)

4. “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine” (2004)



One of two songs on Hot Fuss about literal killings. (The other is “Midnight Show,” the last part of a “Murder Trilogy” that also includes the outtake “Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf.”) But the text of “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine” is less crucial than the subtext, which is This album is loaded with figurative killers, one after another, and the tone is being set by this massive sounding song. Shoutout to Stoermer, who co-wrote the song and provides the crucial bassline, which manages to sound both springy and monolithic, like Adam Clayton doing his best Flea impersonation.

3. “Mr. Brightside” (2004)

Along with “Seven Nation Army,” the most enduring rock song of the 21st century so far. And it deserves the distinction. The Killers wanted to make that kind of song, and they delivered. No arguments, no notes. Nevertheless: It’s the third-best Killers song. It just is. It’s close to the top two, and but not as close as No. 2 is to No. 1.

Putting “Mr. Brightside” at number three was easy. Ranking the next two songs was not.

2. “All These Things That I Have Done” (2004)



I was committed to not having a tie at the top of the list, so I’m putting this at No. 2. But, unofficially, this is really 1b. If we were only talking about the back half of the song — everything from the “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” section to the end — this would represent the greatest music of The Killers’ career. It has the definitive Killers’ lyric (which naturally makes no logical sense) and The Killers’ definitive “lifts your butt from your plastic arena seat” musical surge. It’s just as anthemic as “Mr. Brightside,” but it hasn’t been played as much, which automatically makes it more appealing. It’s so good it even justified JT’s hideous chin beard in Southland Tales.

1. “When You Were Young” (2006)



In his instant-classic review of Sam’s Town, Rob Sheffield observed of this song, “Hurricanes don’t burn, actually; check your copy of Neil Young’s Guide To Weather Metaphors.” That is what you call a spectacular rock-critic burn. But here’s the thing — whenever I hear “When You Were Young,” I believe that The Killers are able to defy meteorological law. Hurricanes do burn, at least in the context of a highway skyline. And I believe this because Brandon Flowers makes me believe it, and then Dave Keuning’s simple but screamingly effective guitar solo demonstrates that unlikely burn. “When You Were Young” was the introductory single from Sam’s Town, and it was the song that made you think that Brandon Flowers wasn’t full of it when he put it up with OK Computer. Just because the rest of the record didn’t quite deliver doesn’t change the power of the unbridled classic-rock evangelism that “When You Were Young” exudes. Like the album, it was an attempt to write one of the greatest songs ever made. There’s no sin in not reaching that plateau; sometimes, hearing someone believe such a thing is possible is inspirational enough.

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