Following The Killers Down Glory Road
When I reach the end of my understanding with certain doctrines or passages of Scripture, I imagine them as pop songs.
If a true cloud of witnesses becomes tough to discern, I shut my eyes and conjure Mavis Staples, her voice mingling with the creaky charms of The Band, telling me to “take a load off” and cast my cares on somebody greater. John Coltrane’s saxophone—like limbs waking—and assured, chant-like vocals manifest the sound of perfect love driving out fear in a way nothing else can.
And when I struggle to wrap my arms around glory, I turn to the pride of Las Vegas, The Killers. Brandon Flowers’s voice, and the swelling sounds which surround it, gives the ineffable a chance to make its case right here, right now.
This practice isn’t quite midrash—the Jewish tradition of understanding sacred text by filling in the spaces around it, imagining what isn’t written down. But it often does the trick, tuning my antennae to see and sense Scripture fulfilled all around me.
No 21st-century band can compare their singles catalog to The Killers. Consider the pit-of-the-stomach pop that is “Mr. Brightside.” Or the genre- and gender-bending “Somebody Told Me,” a three-minute trip into a confessional booth lit by a disco ball. With its unforgettable hook (“I’ve got soul / But I’m not a soldier), “All These Things That I’ve Done” is both a lament and rallying cry.Leave it to a band from the city of bright lights and long odds to show us how to live out our points along history’s timeline.
The band breaks down nostalgia and desire to their moving parts on “When You Were Young.” And, despite its questionable grammar, Flowers and Co. pose their take on an eternal question, singing into the spaces between mortality and divinity: “Are we human / Or are we dancer?”
Last year, the band loosed its sixth album, “Imploding the Mirage,” into the atmosphere. The record might be The Killers’ most complete artistic statement yet. Patron saints of the young and earnest at heart, the band hopes where hope is lacking, painting even the slimmest possibility of salvation with sunrise colors.
“Imploding the Mirage” closes the distance between the band’s shimmering singles and deep cuts which often sound more like filler than, well, true Killers. Newly minted hits “Caution” and “My Own Soul’s Warning” earn places in the band’s canon. But the record also abides a terrific Flowers–K. D. Lang duet, “Lightning Fields” (a modern analog to Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up”), and the sublime “When the Dreams Run Dry,” which coils, then erupts into pure majesty.
Glory soaks and seeps through each of these 10 songs. Some of the most dazzling moments announce themselves with fireworks—yet are no less luminous for being so obvious. After less than a minute of atmosphere and pulse, the band can’t help itself, turning opener “My Own Soul’s Warning” into an all-out sprint toward the horizon, complete with sunburst, E Street–style keyboards.
Humming into being, then traveling the sharpened edge of a groove, “Blowback” is shot through with heavenly light and blissed-out, wordless vocals—exactly what you imagine an angel choir sounds like.
Whether the band goes big or bigger, Flowers’s voice remains the golden thread. The eternally boyish singer opens his mouth and sounds like he has a thousand years worth of poetry tucked inside. Flowers sings to understand himself; but he’s also trying to touch the face of God, each note taking the ladder he’s built to heaven two rungs at a time.
Between Eden and eternity, no one reaches paradise. But, like Caleb and Joshua, The Killers spy out the land, touching and tasting what’s promised—even in the most dire situations. Take “Caution,” the lead single from “Imploding the Mirage.” Flowers makes our acquaintance with a fated character who would make Papa Bruce Springsteen beam with pride. She’s a “featherweight queen,” unimaginable pain behind her “Hollywood eyes.”
In just a few phrases—cryptic enough to remain universal, specific enough to land—Flowers builds the stage against which this four-and-a-half minute redemption story will play out:
Want a family history? Or a sense of place? “Her mama was a dancer / And that’s all that she knew / ‘Cause when you live in the desert / It’s what pretty girls do.
Wonder how the world has reshaped her from the outside in? “Never had a diamond on the sole of her shoes / Just black top, white trash / Straight out of the news.”
Not content to let his subject languish, Flowers writes a way out of the wilderness. In a chorus somehow smaller and bigger than “Thunder Road,” our would-be heroine declares her independence, discarding the rules written for her and “throwing caution” to the wind.
We never receive the end of the story, but Flowers casts the forked road ahead in terms of sin—living “your whole life on a might’ve been”—and salvation. The reach and range of the chorus, and the desperation churning beneath it, invests faith in anything beyond this moment, this town.
Through it all, you hear a grasping for glory. For somewhere, something, maybe even someone, transcendent. The “winds of change” might not blow all the way up to heaven, but they might just carry her out of hell. As Flowers and Co. tell it, this isn’t time for the world to fill up with the knowledge of God’s glory like waters cover the seas. But glory is bubbling up through cracked earth, and even if the land immediately grows thirsty again, that moment’s satisfaction promises flood waters of recreation are coming.
If The Killers might be faulted for anything, it’s their tendency to “go straight from zero / to the Fourth of July.” But then again, no generation sufficiently seeks for glory. We make mirror-image motions toward it, spending too much of our “one wild and precious life” dreaming up shortcuts to praise, prestige, and immortality. Or, having swung through one too many pitches, we resign ourselves to the life of an ant—small, low to the
The Bible’s patterns call us to drill down into the core of daily life and discover crude glory there. No more false choices. The mundane whispers of the goodness ahead; and those rare moments of unmixed joy and wonder, the ones which make our lungs burn, sing it out loud.
The very way the band has performed through the COVID pandemic models this both/and. Turn up the recorded version of “Caution” and sing yourself hoarse. Or cue a black-and-white video recorded for CBS This Morning, in which Flowers and multi-instrumentalist Ronnie Vannucci play the song from a place of softness and remove. Not a bit of glory is sacrificed against reality’s gray.
Leave it to a band from the city of bright lights and long odds to show us how to live out our points along history’s timeline. Never failing to recognize the shape of the world; never failing to reach for more. Escapists who long for the fulfillment of what it is and will be.
If we’ll let them, The Killers will teach us to hum glory songs while we wait for the chorus to kick in. When I can’t imagine all things being made new, or the glory of the Lord filling the temporary tabernacles I travel through, I close my eyes, listen in and throw caution.
An earlier edition misspelled Ronnie Vannucci’s name.