The Killers: Pressure Machine (Island) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 6th, 2023  

The Killers

Pressure Machine


Aug 25, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In the spirit of every great band who made it to the top and managed to remain within that vicinity, The Killers have retained their glitz and bombast for 17 years, while leaving their creative evolutionary process on proud display for all to see. With the release of their 2006 sophomore album and magnum opus Sam’s Town, the Las Vegas alt rockers began their shift into bombastic heartland rock, where their sensibilities have ultimately remained, and, with a falsetto as smooth as evening winds across the lonesome desert, frontman Brandon Flowers, much like his lifelong musical idol Bruce Springsteen, has worn his sentimental heart and homeland upon his denim sleeve throughout his entire career.

Arriving on the heels of last year’s underwhelming Imploding the Mirage, which, aside from the Sam’s Town-throwback anthem “Caution,” offered little else worth salvaging, this year’s Pressure Machine stands in stark contrast not only to its predecessor, but to any Killers album thus released. As on Sam’s Town, the subsequent Day & Age and Battle Born saw Flowers romanticizing the good, the bad, and the unfortunate of small town life, lamenting love and loss, freedom and desperation through a cinematic, arena-sized lense, birthing favorites such as “When You Were Young,” “A Dustland Fairytale,” “Miss Atomic Bomb,” and, perhaps one of the greatest songs ever written, “Read My Mind.” The group’s newest release, however, eschews that wistful, star-spangled Rebel Without a Cause nostalgia trip, stripping the fabled Middle American experience of its televised glamour to reveal a rusted out, seemingly inescapable region of sweat and struggle, as told firsthand by its lifelong inhabitants.

The issue with many “everyman” sagas in entertainment is the writer’s, as well as public’s, tendency to either fetishize or pity excessively the protagonists and the rough and tumble landscapes which they navigate, but Flowers walks that line gracefully as he guides the listener through his hometown of Nephi, Utah: population 5,969. Prefaced by excerpted man in the street interviews with various generations of townsfolk, Pressure Machine allows for its characters to speak for themselves, ridding itself of pretension or ulterior political motive, following, instead, in the tracks of the great “character”songwriters Springsteen, Waits, and Mellancamp, who understand the terrain well enough to allow the voices of those they have known to take the centerstage.

Opening track “West Hills” is introduced by a suite of local voices offering their take on their town, but it is the last of these, a woman who insists, “We’ll be here forever,” who sets the album’s tone. One in the same, the narrator of “West Hills”—“God’s own son,” he declares himself—is a local, born and raised. Unfazed by his father’s “Holy Ghost stories and bloodshed,” the narrator chronicles his fondness for “hillbilly heroin pills,” the bond they help forge between himself, his girlfriend, and her grown son, as well the struggle in which his habit culminates. Flowers weaves a believable tale of the forgotten, those left behind in the wake of the great progress occurring just beyond their horizons. “And if there really is a judgement/When He pulls my chart,” the narrator concludes, “He’ll reject my actions/But He will know my heart.” The opioid crisis narrative carries on to “Quiet Town,” finding Flowers channeling his inner-Boss against a Born in the U.S.A.-esque stomp laced with harmonica as he sings, “A couple of kids got hit by a Union Pacific train/Carryin’ sheet metal and household appliances through the pouring rain,” before adding, “Things like that ain’t supposed to happen/In this quiet town.” “Terrible Thing” and “Cody” explore the psyches of the outcasts and ostracized, those who acknowledge the vicious cycle of failure and complacency occurring around them, and the damage in which it often results.

Elsewhere, album standout “In Another Life” sees an aging local plagued by “what if’s” as he longs for a return to the glory and unbound potential of his innocent youth, confessing, “I spent my best years layin’ rubber on a factory line/Wonder what I would’ve been in another life?” Across town, the family on the album’s exquisite title track spend their days of bleak domesticity “sweatin’ it out in the pressure machine,” remaining stagnant in a present they must survive, living and working, oblivious to any brighter future or idealized, postcard past, while, removed from it all, a glum lawman finds himself embroiled in a calamitous love affair on the chilling “Desperate Things.”

The group has created their own respective masterpiece of All-American heartland rock, far from the glossy, still-superior grasp of Sam’s Town and scaled down in comparison to the epic Battle Born. Flowers paints his scenery in bleak afternoon sunlight, letting his barbed wire rust and his dust settle. Pressure Machine is The Killers’ Nebraska, their Ghost of Tom Joad—it is raw, it is spare, it is miles away from their loud, romantic glory days, and most importantly, it is real. The Killers walk the dusty streets of America’s forgotten alleys and cul-de-sacs, haunted by the Cross, tragic and proud, successfully representing local voices as more than mere statistics.

While Pressure Machine may not be the conversation one wishes to have in the current climate, it is unsettlingly relevant much of the time. This stirring portrait of small town existence in its twilight serves as a necessary metaphor, applicable to many of the major issues currently facing the nation. It is most certainly The Killers’ finest album since Battle Born, and successfully proves The Killers as visionary musicians who shall surely help to define “classic rock” for many generations to come. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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