Early response to the Killers' sophomore album, ``Sam's Town," has been a collective shriek of betrayal. Where do those natty neo-New Wavers from Las Vegas get off trading in their gaudy personas and amusing post-punk -- which won them fame and five Grammy nominations -- for scruffy beards and American anthems? Apparently we've arrived at a cultural moment where an ambitious band that can't abide the idea of going down in history as the deliciously shallow synth-pop band from Sin City is taken down for imagining there's something more.
The joke, as usual, is on the eye rollers. The new album is every bit as stylized as ``Hot Fuss," it's just a lot less trendy and transparent. ``I see London, I see Sam's Town," chants frontman Brandon Flowers on the album's opening track, introducing the music's dual reference points: a mod metropolis and a two-bit casino. The Killers' new terrain is a wind swept wasteland where post-punk dance-pop collides with heartland rock and the Cure goes toe to toe with Bruce Springsteen. Horns come out of nowhere. The band breaks into an operatic refrain. It's a grandiose and counterintuitive mash-up -- and a whole lot more faux than the comfortably tarty trappings of ``Mr. Brightside."
Does anybody really believe that bolero ties and black and white cover art are a bid for credibility? The songs themselves manage to stake that claim: most of them made of crashing guitars, pummeling bass, unsettling synthesizers, and emotive vocals that build -- with a deft mix of bombast and whimsy -- into epic, melody-drenched rock songs that are as grand as they are empty. It's a statement, not a terribly fashionable one, and you can bet a bunch of former fashionistas like the Killers know it. Good for them.