The Killers made me realize something about how I pass judgment on the quality of music I consume. To wit:
Some albums are good, and some albums are good enough.
The albums that are good are ones you take for a spin time and again, and you look forward to that kind of repetition. The albums that are good enough are ones you take for a spin, just because nothing else at the moment appeals to you.
In terms of the Killers, I made the following distinction:
Hot Fuss was good. Sam’s Town is good enough.
There’s an un-self-conscious purity to Hot Fuss, a palpatable sense of the band’s chemistry. Despite the glaring derivativeness of the music, it was an enjoyable listen everytime it queued up on my music player.
With Sam’s Town, there’s a bit of effort to get the same kind of pay-off. Perhaps the year’s worth of trash talk by Brandon Flowers colored my reception to the album, but after having such a successful debut, the Killers were prone to the folly of over-confidence.
Sam’s Town sounds a lot bigger than Hot Fuss, which was already crowded to begin with. The band broadened the scope of its influences to include some glancing references to Phil Spector, and perhaps even Bruce Springsteen.
The buried glockenspiel at the end of "When You Were Young" made me think of "Born to Run", as did the big drum gestures of "The River is Wild".
The horns on "Bones" is a sure sign the Killers are buying into the idea of "more is more", while the hint of celesital choirs at the end of "My List" takes the ambition even further.
And all of it is unnecessary.
Underneath all this extra stuff is the same knack for melody and arrangements that came through just fine on Hot Fuss.
"For Reasons Unknown" inevitably has me humming long after I’ve turned my player off, and the Duran Duran-isms of "Bling" get me singing along every time.
"When You Were Young" is often described as a single that grows on you — the first listen doesn’t reel you in, but subsequent listens are ear crack.
Sam’s Town is on the cusp of a sophomore slump. The elements that made the Killers entertaining the first time around are still there but buried under the pressure to exceed.
And that makes the album merely good enough.
I’ve put Sam’s Town on regularly rotation during my work commute, only because I really have to stop playing Utada Hikaru’s Ultra Blue and Furukawa Miki’s Mirrors all the time. (For the record, those are good albums.)
As much as I enjoy it now, I can tell months from now Sam’s Town will strike me as non-essential.