Music Reviews
Pressure Machine

The Killers Pressure Machine

(Island Records) Rating - 7/10

In the past, The Killers have needed to manufacture some exciting backstory for an album. But, as it turns out, they had plenty right on their doorstep. It’s a shame it took six albums, a global pandemic, and a canceled tour for them to discover it. But for those still hopeful of a successful second wind for the band, it’s a pleasant surprise. Considering the band’s festival and stadium omnipresence, lockdown meant Flowers could finally work without anyone watching for the first time in 15 years— resulting in an eerie trip down memory lane and a Killers album unlike any other. 

Pressure Machine is the mature effort that The Killers have talked about for more than a decade, but never really tried to make. The loosely conceptual thread follows characters from Flowers’ childhood in Nephi, Utah, and is kept grounded with interviews from locals and refreshingly modest production. The stories have a lightness of touch you’d rarely associate with The Killers. And despite the short turnaround, it’s clearly the most considered record they’ve made. That means the stumbles and missteps of recent efforts are avoided, but also highlight the band’s seemingly insurmountable shortcomings.

Most impressive: it's the first time you want to listen to Flowers rather than hum over him. Desperate Things is equally surprising and engrossing, dealing with infidelity, faith, and murder. Quiet Town retells the town’s reaction to a tragic accident, and centerpiece In The Car Outside is the only real stadium fare (and, less surprisingly, the album's best), an appropriate backing for a man seeing his life spiral out of control. The album is strongest when Flowers questions the lengths people will go when their faith is stretched, or what’s left when they abandon it altogether. 

However, when the album gets quieter or when the stakes aren’t so high, Flowers’ lyrics never quite land how he intends. He floats between a wide-eyed romanticism of working-class people and a fatalistic approach that they are just powerless to a postcode lottery. It’s a confusing paradox that they make no effort to address. And it’s understandable—there’s plenty they do want to address, but The Killers are not a band who will delicately deal with something as complex as the opioid crisis. It’s treated with a caution similar to the first scenes of a horror film; quietly mentioned but never given a second thought. It works the first time, but not quite the second or third. 

On Terrible Thing, a suicidal gay teenager is seen as collateral in a town where ‘culture is king,’ painting the crisis of faith as poignant but pointless. It's only balanced out with some heavy-handed sentiment about how working-class people are, in Flowers’ world, powerlessly resigned to staying there forever. It seems like he clicked upon this compelling narrative about faith and what happens when the struggle continues, but it's winced and pulled out just a little too early. Flowers is in abundant songwriting territory but, either by choice, or inadvertently, his sentences begin to trail off. Unfortunately, it’s to the detriment of the whole album too—and once the initial surprise of the Killers changing tact wears off, there’s diminishing returns. 

The interesting thing about Pressure Machine is that it will recast everything in The Killers’ discography. It somehow explains Flowers’ early arrogance and drive to secure a different path—the dramatic misstep of Battle Born, and the slow return to form that’s allowed them to try something like this again. It will be a shame when—besides maybe A Car Outside’ and Quiet Town—the tour diary fills up again. Inevitably, this album sits as a strange outlier in the discography rather than a focal point. If it does exist on the fringes of their discography, despite the steps they've taken forward, their not making a cohesive statement is what will haunt them. 

Pressure Machine has the air of a friend who's retelling a story that they don’t have all the details, padded out with vague sentiments instead. This time, it’s disguised under a sprinkling of dust, but the band’s blinkered aspiration to create a classic again produces an album that is enjoyable but hollow. In that way, at least, Pressure Machine is a Killers album just like any other.