Album Review: Pressure Machine by The Killers

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22 February 2022

By Aoifke Madeleine

The Killers’ latest album Pressure Machine was released August 2021, so soon after their 2020 release Imploding the Mirage. A concept album and ode to frontman Brandon Flowers’ hometown of Nephi, Utah— the ‘Mormon capital’ of the USA— the track serves stories of different people from the town in flash recordings at the beginning and end of each song.

It’s a pandemic album if there ever was one and is a result of Flowers’ self-isolation in Nephi. Reflecting on his childhood, Mormonism, small-town America, much like Taylor Swift with her albums folklore and evermore the album is a breakaway from previous work.

The reflection creates a new sound that, whilst still distinctly The Killers, is no longer a stadium-filling, rock anthem tradition. It’s quieter and meditative after a tumultuous period in history.

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Upon release, Flowers admitted that he was a “little nervous” about the album and its reception from fans and critics alike. While many have compared its composition to fan favourite 2004 release Hot Fuss, Flowers was worried about the austere of the songs being lost on many, especially with such a change in sound compared to recent releases Wonderful, Wonderful and Imploding the Mirage.

A concept album that tells the stories of individual folk living in rural areas, under the church’s influence and old society prevalent in the Midwest. Flowers told Radio X that it came from a “grief that I hadn’t dealt with”, as his memories of Nephi are “tender”, this album reflecting on memories “tied to fear or great sadness”.

The main goal was to “do justice to these stories and these lives in this little town that I grew up in,” Flowers said. The diverse range of characters makes this possible throughout. Opening with the song West Hills, the introduction of the song features a local woman recalling that she had lived in the town for twenty-six years after having married her high school sweetheart.

In between her anecdote, an elder man interrupts, talking about how members of the community tried to tie his brother up, so “if you don’t fit the mould…” exposing the darker memories of the town.

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It’s an incredible start for the album. With haunting pianos to set the scene, roaring guitars to represent the anxiety, its lyrics of legacy and desperation with the religious connotations evoke that of a hymn— a hymn for small-town America.

Grief is perhaps the main theme examined; as Flowers puts it, “the ghosts of old emotions came back”, grief that hadn’t really been dealt with properly before. Unlike the usual Las Vegas dedications in The Killers’ works, while isolating in Nephi, Flowers was reminded of his own youth and often, the fragility of human life.

In Quiet Town are my favourite lyrics: “when we first heard opioid stories they were always in whispering tones/ now banners of sorrow mark the front steps of childhood homes”. It’s tear-jerking and harrowingly beautiful.

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The prejudiced views held in these towns are recognised also, most notably in Terrible Thing. Sang from the point of view of a young, gay teenage boy meditating on doing a terrible thing— committing suicide. Much like Andy You’re A Star and On Top from Hot Fuss, the song examines the culture of small towns and their perception of homosexuality.

The people in Nephi are described as strongly Christian, much like Flowers himself, the boy is “wrapped up in the strangle silk of this cobweb town where culture is king”.

It’s their best album lyrically. Not necessarily a mantra or ode to the working-class, but the album holds elements of kitchen-sink dramas or “angry young men”. The “barbed wire” of religion, how the “good people who lean on Jesus, they’re quick to forgive”, but most represented in the concluding track The Getting By.

An ode to Flowers’ father, the anger of lost dreams and unachieved goals ring true. “It’s just small-town filling and just living the small town,” where “my people were told they’d prosper in this land/ Still, I know some who’ve never seen the ocean”. The American Dream is taken apart by those who were cast aside from it.

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There’s still hope though, in The Getting By — “but maybe it’s the stuff it takes to get up in the morning and put another day in, son/ That keeps you standing where you should/ So put another day in, son, and hold on ’til the getting’s good”.

The Killers paint a picture of a town that would be unheard of and unknown to many but through creative genius, crafts a love story to the place. Nephi is present in every song, but the themes are universal, beautifully written and produced. It may be different to their previous rock anthems however it is monumental in its impact, proving The Killers’ legacy as one of the best rock bands of all time.

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