The Killers quiet down on folky new album ‘Pressure Machine’ (review)
The Killers released their best album in ages with 2020's Imploding the Mirage, an album that put a fashionably modern spin on The Killers' Springsteen worship with help from The War On Drugs collaborator Shawn Everett and Foxygen's Jonathan Rado, two producers who know a thing or two about making fashionably modern versions of classic arena rock. Now, just eight days shy of that album's one-year anniversary, they're back with Pressure Machine, which was once again made with Everett and Rado, and which marks their shortest gap between albums ever. The Killers continue to sound more motivated and inspired than they had since the aughts, but while Pressure Machine was made around the same time as Imploding the Mirage with the same production team, it actually sounds noticeably different. If Mirage found The Killers unabashedly embracing their Born in the U.S.A.-sized tendencies, this one feels more like they were shooting for Nebraska.
It's not as raw or minimal as Nebraska -- it still has a glossy mainstream rock sound, and a handful of songs with a propulsive rhythm section -- but it relies far more heavily on acoustic guitars and quiet songs than any Killers album ever has. It also has backing harmonies on "Runaway Horses" by Phoebe Bridgers, whose own quiet music shares some DNA with the songs on this album. Prior to Pressure Machine, The Killers' music always looked outward. They wrote songs that felt big enough to fill arena shows, and catchy enough to get those massive crowds singing every word. They've always existed on the verge of cheesiness, and sometimes cross over into it fully, but at their best, The Killers wrote arena rock songs that shot you in the heart and caused you to scream at the top of your lungs. They're far from the only Springsteen-worshipping 21st century rock band, but they're one of the only ones with the guts to write a song as populist as "Dancing In The Dark" and with the pop smarts to pull it off. Pressure Machine, however, marks the first time that The Killers have written songs that feel insular. Some of them -- like "Sleepwalker" and "In The Car Outside" -- sound like they could go off in a huge venue, but most of them feel designed for a cozy day in. Imploding the Mirage's unfortunately-timed release may have left you longing for live music, but Pressure Machine feels like the product of a year spent indoors.
As they did on its predecessor, The Killers sound creatively rejuvenated on Pressure Machine, not content to be seen as a "2000s band" or a nostalgia act, but as a band who are still making worthwhile, relevant records. And to their credit, no Killers album sounds anything like Pressure Machine. It's a respectable move to do something different this far into their career, but while the arena-sized heartland rock of Imploding the Mirage delivered, the softer Pressure Machine falls short. Very few current artists do the former like The Killers, but there's a long way to the top if The Killers wanna write a folk album. Pressure Machine is an overwhelmingly pleasant album, but it leaves much to be desired, like raw enough production to warrant the Nebraska comparison without caveats, or melodies that hit as hard as the ones on Imploding the Mirage. The idea of a quiet, folky Killers album is appealing, and Pressure Machine's best moments suggest they might have a great one in them in the future. But right now, my takeaway is that they just might be better at Born in the U.S.A. than they are at Nebraska.
Pressure Machine is out now on Island Records. Stream it below. The Killers also have upcoming tour dates.