When I think of albums that will likely stick with me for the rest of my life, one of the first that comes to mind is “Hot Fuss” by The Killers. Released in 2004, it’s the first album I vividly remember hearing during my childhood, and it’s stuck with me nearly sixteen years later. This is the album I’ve bonded over with best friends, seen most of the tracks performed live in concert, and of course — it’s the album that introduced “Mr. Brightside” to the world.
TRACK BY TRACK REVIEW:
Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine: Opening the album with layered, synthesized guitars, an infectiously catchy bass line, and dramatic vocals, “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine” details a police interrogation of the narrator. It’s the third song in the band’s so-called “murder trilogy” — three songs illustrating the death of a girl named Jenny. It’s risky for an up-and-coming band (as of 2004) to sing songs about murder, but their creativity and tendency to think outside the box is part of what makes The Killers one of the biggest rock acts of the 2000s. Lyrics like “there ain’t no motive for this crime, Jenny was a friend of mine…” solidify their status as a band with a flair for melodrama.
Mr. Brightside: Released in a time when alternative music consistently reached the top of the charts, it’s an understatement to say The Killers hit it out of the ballpark with “Mr. Brightside”. It’s one of those songs that feels as if it belongs to everyone — you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know this song. Yet, what is it about “Mr. Brightside” that makes it so revered? Duran Duran-esque synths composed alongside lyrics detailing infidelity, heartbreak, and paranoia? Maybe it’s the passionate vocals from lead singer Brandon Flowers, who manages to make a Las Vegas band sound like they came out of both the mid ‘90s brit-pop scene and the MTV era? Regardless of why, the song has an aura of permanence even though it was released sixteen years ago. It’s present in my childhood memories, it was playing while aimlessly driving around my hometown in high school with friends, and it was the song blaring when the clock struck 12:00 AM on New Years 2020. The memories and feelings associated with “Mr. Brightside” are what make the song so special — but the ‘80s flair doesn’t hurt either.
Smile Like You Mean It: A fan favorite, “Smile Like You Mean It” is covered in new-wave synths and melancholy recollections of youth. It’s a song about coming to terms with growing up, and the wistfulness one may feel for innocence. Lyrics such as “someone is playing a game in the house that I grew up in, and someone will drive her around down the same streets that I did…” suggest that the narrator is facing the harsh reality that time waits for no one.
Somebody Told Me: Another track that helped define the indie scene in the 2000s, “Somebody Told Me” is a raging track that mixes rock and roll stylings with classic new-wave, pulsating synths. In an interview lead singer Brandon Flowers gave with NME, he wrote this song based on what he was seeing and doing in Las Vegas indie nightclubs. Lyrics like “…then I’m leaving without you, ‘cause heaven ain’t close in a place like this” allude to the infamous Sin City.
All These Things That I’ve Done: If The Killers wanted to emulate U2 in their career, then this is their “Where The Streets Have No Name”. It’s a stadium anthem, featuring dynamic guitar riffs, a gospel choir, and an emphatic bridge of “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier”. The lyrics describe Flowers’s struggle between the desire to live a rock & roll lifestyle and his devout faith in the LDS church. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, and clearly a fan favorite. I saw The Killers perform live at 97X Next Big Thing this past November and the feeling I had hearing 20,000 people chant the bridge alongside Flowers is one that is indescribable. It’s moments like that in music that reminds me of how magical it can be.
Andy, You’re A Star: One of the few slow-burning tracks on the album, “Andy, You’re A Star” sees Flowers embracing the role as narrator and tells the story of a teenage boy who is in love with the high school football star — presumably, Andy. The track features little instrumental support except a slow-build up of synths, drums, and one electric guitar. While “Andy, You’re A Star” is the closest thing to a filler track on “Hot Fuss,” it’s not bad by any means.
On Top: Another ode to life in Las Vegas, “On Top” is driven by piercing synths and melodramatic vocals from Flowers. It’s easy to picture the glitz and glam Las Vegas has to offer in this track, but at the end, he suggests there’s more to life than that privilege. The lyric “I look at you and smile, because I’m fine” leaves listeners with an ominous feeling that our narrator knows more than what he’s letting on.
Change Your Mind: One of the few love songs on “Hot Fuss,” “Change Your Mind” examines the haunting feeling left behind in the rubble of a failed relationship. Lyrics such as “out again, a siren screams at half-past ten, and you won’t let go” seems to suggest that, no matter how hard the narrator attempts to get over the relationship by going out and keeping himself busy, his ex-partner always seems to pop up in his head. Driven by steady bass lines, synthesizers, and drums that increasingly become more urgent, “Change Your Mind” offers nothing particularly new, but is pleasing nonetheless.
Believe Me Natalie: Perhaps the most underrated track on the album, “Believe Me Natalie” is a sprawling, urgent plea for a character named Natalie to embrace what her life has to offer before it’s too late. In a fan-club interview with Brandon Flowers, he stated the track is about “the last days of disco, before the HIV/AIDS crisis…”. With lyrics referencing go-go dancers and a Monet painting (which reportedly was hung in Studio 54), supported by the usage of horns and synthesizers, “Believe Me Natalie” creates an aura of wistfulness and urgency.
Midnight Show: The second song in the band’s infamous murder trilogy, “Midnight Show” details the murder of aforementioned character, Jenny. The lyric “she turned her face to speak but no one heard her cry” corroborates the story told in “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine” — confirming the narrator’s involvement in her murder. While the moody instrumentals are similar to track four, the lyrics are what make this song stand-out. Flowers shines when he embraces creative story-telling and exploring some of the darker parts of humanity, rather than writing love song after love song.
Everything Will Be Alright: The longest track of “Hot Fuss” with a nearly six minute run-time, “Everything Will Be Alright” is a slow ballad that sees Flowers searching for the light at the end of tunnel following a difficult situation in his life. With nothing but distorted vocals and slow synths, it’s a solid summation to the album. While it’s not a song I’d seek out to listen to on my own, its impact is evident when listening to “Hot Fuss” from front-to-back.
“Hot Fuss” is one of the greatest albums to come out of the booming 2000s indie scene. While most bands at the time were inspired to recreate the New York punk scene of the ’70s, The Killers looked toward acts like The Smiths, Duran Duran, and Depeche Mode, then put their own twist on what it means to be an alternative band. This innovation is what makes “Hot Fuss” so unique. Between melodramatic vocals, lyrics telling tales of Las Vegas glamour and murder, and eerie new-wave synths, The Killers established their place in not only the underground music scene, but helped to make alternative music become accessible to mainstream audiences. The influence of “Hot Fuss” can still be seen today, as more and more artists are learning to embrace the sound of the ‘80s — but, The Killers were one of the first to do so. Between tracks like the heartfelt “Believe Me Natalie and the unforgettable “Mr. Brightside,” there’s something for everyone on this album. 5/5 Spinnaker Sails.
Standout Tracks: “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine,” “Mr. Brightside,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “Somebody Told Me,” “All These Things That I’ve Done,” “Believe Me Natalie”
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