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rrramble retrospective: Hot Fuss - The Killers

Updated: Jan 22

Hot Fuss is the debut studio album by American rock band The Killers, released in the UK in 2004. The album's music is mostly influenced by new wave and post-punk, and the hit single ‘Mr. Brightside’ is apparently the only song worthy of playing in student unions up and down the country.


After twenty years, are they still "coming out of the cage and doing just fine"? Or have "they had it with this game" after all? (Bonus points if you can name the songs from those lyrics!)


The Killers 'Hot Fuss' Album cover surrounded by green, pink and orange waves

Florence

I’m just going to get this out the way. Anyone who’s been on a night out in the UK has been all but bludgeoned to death by ‘Mr. Brightside’. If you’re in dire need of a conversation topic, you can state your opinion on the song and watch your peers divide into two camps: “The best song ever!” vs. “Overplayed, overrated” for 3-5 minutes of mundane debate. Just to cover my bases: I do like the song, but it would also be nice if primary school discos took more risks with their playlists. 


In all seriousness, the song feels personal to me. It reminds me of my high school best friend who loves it too, and of when it was first pointed out to me that you can’t tell if the singer is jealous of the boy or the girl in the song. It seems a simple observation now, but at the time as a teen coming to terms with their sexuality, my mind was blown. 


As for the rest of the songs on Hot Fuss, this was the first time I’d heard most of them. Listening to an entire album often feels too big a commitment, so I instead take the more sporadic approach of discovering just one song, letting it feature exclusively as my life’s soundtrack for the next three days until I can’t stand it anymore and begin the process again. All this to say, as I began Hot Fuss I found myself wondering if my obsessive, one-song method was worth missing out on the art of the album.


For the first half of the songs, at least, I was impressed by how cohesive they felt and how effortlessly they flowed from one to the next. In just seven tracks The Killers explore a complex emotional spectrum of love, envy, and vengefulness. The lyrics share just enough for a narrative to emerge, yet remain playfully cryptic. I loved the ambiguity of the first half of the album, in particular the fluidity of gender in ‘Somebody Told Me’ (“Somebody told me you had a boyfriend / that looked like a girlfriend / that I had in February…’) After a series of upbeat, pop-y records, ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ was a welcome chaser: taking clear inspiration from gospel music, this track invited me to take a moment’s reflection. Drawing on his Mormon upbringing Flowers sings about the expectations of the LDS church and sin. The songs that follow it, ‘On Top’ and the undeniably homoerotic ‘Andy, You’re A Star’ paint a picture of a narrator struggling to level his sexual desire with his religious guilt. 


Just as quickly as Hot Fuss drew me in, it lost me. Around the halfway point my brain began to muddle, unable to maintain focus on the soup of zippy UFO-like noises and repetitive lyrics. In all honesty, I was a bit synth-ed out. The final song ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’ seemed to sense my dwindling enthusiasm, trying to coax me back as Flowers sings “indie rock and roll is what I want… it’s what I need”. An unsuccessful plea, unfortunately. Outside of a particularly angsty period in 2013, I find that this pop-punk-rock stuff doesn’t hold much long term appeal.


Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers, performing wearing all black

Tom

I only found out recently The Killers were American. Perhaps it’s because ‘Mr. Brightside’ is baked into the national nightclub consciousness, or the band’s gritty spirit that makes me want to stick Fratellis on, but for years I assumed these guys were British.


A blaze of hell for punks to bop to in nods of total agreement, The Killers’ debut darts-throw Hot Fuss earns such a reputation. Though I imagine it wouldn’t want this sort of praise sung, I’d say this record's elegant in title and graceful in execution. If you ears haven’t wandered these halls, I urge them to


You’ll know the hits: ‘Somebody Told Me’, whirring like a firehouse siren, and ‘Mr. Brightside’ which, so familiar from Friday nights in darkness, just ticked along on this listen (in a coffee shop – who hears this in the daylight?!).


When considered as part of the bigger picture, ‘Mr Brightside’ does vitally carry the momentum of heartbreak that the opening track, ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’, previewed. I smiled recalling all the kicks I threw to the ‘Mr Brightside’ chorus last year at not one but three wedding receptions (somebody get me a gin). ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,’ meanwhile, leads the angry parade with a steely cry, its funk bars the trenches of rage and its sound an 80’s sci-fi score propelled into rock.


As the zeitgeist should feel guilty about, the loud songs appeared on all the recurring playlists, leaving the other moody tracks behind and forgotten. Honestly, I prefer the sullen songs. Bopping to ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ is the kinda party I’d stay for – and points for its matter-of-fact pleas, and abstract “if you can’t hold on” closing. The gospel rhythms and hum of ‘Andy You’re a Star,’ and the pulse, solitude and image of free running in ‘On Top’ create worlds that glare at themselves in the mirror. As the latter blares; “I look at you and smile because I’m fine.” Maybe because I teach drama I feel safer swimming in haunts of soul, but I’d always pick the road whose destination is to help me accept my shit. (Anyone else check out this record and envision vampires boogying, here?)


One more for you: ‘Believe Me, Natalie.’ The disco has to end, and it did, as AIDS brought it crashing down, says Brandon Flowers. Besides this context, BLIMEY, is ‘Believe Me, Natalie’ a rollercoaster?! Blasting, sizzling, and painting colours in my head you’d have seen on Windows Media Player in the noughties, this might be my favourite retro-play in a while. Sincere, messy, electric: believe me when I pray that more tunes sound like this. ‘Believe Me, Natalie’ is a song with a story that rides a wave; one of wish, acceptance, and finality. It’s a masterpiece, and its trumpets knew it.


I thank rrramble for queuing this album up. Rock’s winter’s friend, and The Killers’ Hot Fuss is quite the hot cocoa for this cold snap.



Brand Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers, performing, He is wearing a pink jacket over a black outfit and is gesturing towards the audience


Callum

Sitting down to write this review of Hot Fuss, I feel I must first own up to a couple of things. Firstly, The Killers have largely passed me by (other than ‘Mr. Brightside’, but more on that below), and secondly, that I’m not really one to sit and listen to an album in full - I’m much more of a compilation/playlist kind of guy.


So, now I’ve aired my musical indiscretions… let’s get ‘Mr. Brightside’ over and done with. Based on the true story of lead singer Brandon Flowers discovering his girlfriend cheating on him, it is full of beat-driven anthemic angst that fuelled my teenage years. I must have heard The Killers on the radio, but my MP3 player (no iPod or Spotify Wrapped in sight) was full of Green Day, My Chemical Romance, and Good Charlotte - sorry Mum and Dad. And yet ‘Mr. Brightside’ seems to have seeped into me like musical osmosis. From the Student Union bar of my tiny university (I can almost taste the Cider Black) it even appeared on the song list for my husband and I’s wedding reception. Although all shame on me, I had to Google the band that sang it. 


As I’ve said, I am rubbish at listening to an entire album and I am much less able to tell you which song belongs on which album. I fully assumed that ‘Mr. Brightside’ would be the only song I knew. Re-listening to Hot Fuss, my memory was jogged by the other singles ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ and ‘Somebody Told Me’. These tracks, like ‘Mr. Brightside’, are synth-y and beat-driven.


But what didn't make the cut for single release? ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’ stuck out; almost tongue-in-cheek with lyrics commenting on hipster culture (“A coffee shop with a cause”) and by the time you get into the song properly, it has an almost My-Chemical-Romance-esque sound, which was probably why I was drawn to it. 


Similarly, ‘Andy, You’re a Star’ echoes a slower and more thoughtful angst than the earlier tracks, and with lyrics like “In a car with a girl, promise me she’s not your world” and “Cause Andy, you’re a star; In nobody’s eyes but mine”, suggests an almost melancholic, closeted crush, of the song’s narrator. A quick bit of research says that it’s a song about classic high school politics and frustrations with athletically gifted kids getting the upper hand, which is far more straight-forward.


I think I came to this review with an expectation of what Hot Fuss is about. That slightly jaded teen sound was certainly the soundtrack to my high school years, and although there is plenty of that to be celebrated, the rest was something forgettable that solicited a tepid reaction at best. Would I listen to it in full again? Probably not. For me, The Killers will always be ‘Mr. Brightside’ and placed firmly in the DJ-zone – a floor filler only to be listened to whilst dancing around handbags.




Edited by Harriet

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