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The Killers swap arena anthems for intimacy on the Springsteen-inspired ‘Pressure Machine’

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Not even 12 months since their last release, The Killers are back. After the cancellation of their 2020 world tour, it was hard to imagine what direction they would take next. But instead of sitting back and putting their lives on hold, they returned to the studio. It was always going to be hard to beat their outstanding 2020 album, Imploding the Mirage, so instead, they took a different approach and created a different type of album entirely – a far cry from the stadium-worthy indie-rock they are known for. 

Instead, Pressure Machine is The Killers’ answer to the pandemic – providing escapism from the grim reality of the world and transporting listeners to Brandon Flowers’ hometown, the rural town of Nephi, Utah. With lyrics exploring depression, drug addiction, homophobia, and small-town life in general, Pressure Machine is The Killers’ most ambitious project to date. Sonically, it is nothing revolutionary. At best, it pays tribute to Springsteen-esque tales of small-town America, and at worst feels like a cheap copy of Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska. However, this is a huge step for The Killers, and unlike anything they’ve produced before.

Pressure Machine has now thrown a spanner in The Killers’ works. How can they go back to making poorly written indie-rock when they’ve shown the world what they’re capable of? Their 2007 album Sawdust foreshadowed how The Killers are able to produce a more intimate, acoustic sound, but Pressure Machine shows the New Jersey band venturing fully into country-rock. There are still traces of the sound The Killers are known and loved for, particularly in ‘In Another Life’. However, Pressure Machine also shows a much more intimate side of the band. Notably, the Phoebe Bridgers feature on ‘Runaway Horses’ is nothing short of genius. Her soft, dreamy vocals work in beautiful harmony with Flowers’, and provide a welcome surprise in the middle of the album.

Could Pressure Machine potentially shift mainstream musically forever?

Lyrically, Pressure Machine is also vastly more interesting than anything they’ve written before – their indecorous line “are we human or are we dancers” from the Day and Age album comes to mind. Instead, Pressure Machine is lyrically character-driven, exploring the residents of a “barbed wire town of barbed wire dreams” in ‘Terrible Thing’. This is paired with snippets of interviews with Nephi’s residents. Not only does this complete the album, but also makes it feel much more intimate and real.

Where Pressure Machine falls short, perhaps, is in its length. The album is only 55 minutes long, yet somehow feels much longer. Although the sound they produce is extremely appealing, by the end of the album the songs start to merge into each other. An abridged version exists, without the monologues, and with some of the instrumentals cut short. However, this makes the album feel bare and incomplete, while still somehow feeling like it drags on more than it needs to.

Pressure Machine is also interesting from a marketing point of view. Similar to Taylor Swift’s 2020 lockdown albums Folklore and Evermore, and Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now, Pressure Machine is a passion project stemming from the pandemic. These albums are all completely different from anything these artists have released before, both musically and lyrically. Now that Covid-19 is coming to an end and live music is back, what will happen to music is a mystery. Pressure Machine is not a stadium rock album by any means and will most likely feel out of place if The Killers decide to play it live during their upcoming 2022 world tour. Instead, it feels more appropriate to listen to in a musty bar in Anytown, America. However, for The Killers, Swift, and other incredibly popular artists, this remains an impossibility. So whether artists go back to producing, in essence, “music that will sell”, or dare to adventure into new directions, is something to be decided in the coming years. Ultimately, could it be that Pressure Machine has the potential to change mainstream music forever?

WE RECOMMEND: ‘In Another Life’

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