On the 10th anniversary of The Killers’ sophomore album Sam’s Town, journalist and The Killers’ biggest fan (self-appointed) Anthony Colangelo explains why Sam’s Town is such a special LP and why it proves the band is just as good as any mid-2000’s alt-rock outfit.
I remember the first time I listened to Sam’s Town. It was in my mum’s car, driving home from Altona Gate Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s west. I made Mum take me to the Altona Gate K-Mart at 9am so I could walk straight to the CD section to buy it.
It was 2006. Ten years ago to the day. What a time; no streaming, no torrents and very little concert footage of new songs on YouTube. Sam’s Town was probably the last album I’d eagerly anticipated where I couldn’t listen to most, if not all tracks in full before release. That’s because the aforementioned technology didn’t exist in 2006.
I was 15 and I’d played The Killers first album Hot Fuss on repeat for two years. Hot Fuss was the first full album I’d ever obsessed over – it consumed my life from ages 13 to 15.
I’d read a lot of press about Sam’s Town before release. Interviews, previews and reviews revealed it was going to be different. They mentioned influences like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty but I had no idea who they were.
I was oblivious to the way The Killers’ sound was about to evolve. The way their sound was about to alter (although with its DNA still intact) and the way my outlook on life would be enriched.
Sam’s Town had nothing that sounded like Hot Fuss’ “Mr Brightside”, “Somebody Told Me”, “All These Things That I’ve Done” or “Smile Like You Mean It”. Those songs were indie rock anthems steeped in Euro-Brit pop dye, borrowed from The Smiths, Depeche Mode and New Order.
Instead, Sam’s Town produced “When You Were Young”, “Read My Mind”, “Bones”, “For Reasons Unknown” and “Bling (Confessions of a King)” – indie rock anthems much the same, but instead shaped by American heartland rock.
That didn’t mean Sam’s Town lacked Hot Fuss’ synth heavy tone. It was still there, but just used differently and not so prominent. So I struggled to place Sam’s Town, and so did a lot of the band’s critics.
15-year-old me was jarred and challenged by Sam’s Town. Since I first heard The Killers (“Somebody Told Me” on Fox FM, “Mr Brightside” on Channel V and then all of Hot Fuss), it all instantly made sense. I loved it straight away.
So surely Sam’s Town was going to be the same? Well, no.
I liked “When You Were Young” (released a month before Sam’s Town, and how could you not?), but the rest of the album took time to seep into me. On Sam’s Town Brandon Flowers’ voice was so different. The songs were heavier, slightly darker and the whole look of the band had changed.
Gone were the sleek Euro catwalk blazers mixed with a flashy and brash Las Vegas style palette. This was replaced by a decidedly earthier, hairier and more Americana desert style image.
It rattled me - symbolism and imagery matters – and for the first few weeks I was unsure if it meant I no longer loved the first band I’d ever been obsessed with. But soon enough it won me over and I’d fallen in love with every single track. But how?
Reflecting back on it 10 years later, I realised it was an important time in my life. Growing to love Sam’s Town helped make me a curious person.
I started to wonder and then to learn about who Springsteen and Petty were. I investigated what Flowers sung about. I discovered for the first time in my life that music wasn’t just about making a song that sounded good (even though they all did). I discovered that music could have meaning and that it could tell stories. In the battle to love Sam’s Town, I was opened up to a world that I never wanted to leave. Loving it made me learn a lot.
I was taught to love searching for meaning and about the art I was engaging with, because I had to find out what Sam’s Town was trying to say to understand its purpose. The way I was forced to engage with it was new to me. And that engagement is something I now love to repeat in my work, hobbies and everywhere else in life I possibly can.
SAM’S TOWN NOW
10 years on, Sam’s Town is the most adored album in the eyes of the most ardent Killers’ devotees – The Victims. We obsess over all the other albums, we love them – but there is something incredibly special about Sam’s Town.
It gave the band a real identity and Sam’s Town’s attachment to and passion for Las Vegas has been something fans from around the world have identified with. That fan devotion is why The Killers are playing a three show Sam’s Town extravaganza at the Sam’s Town Casino and Gambling Hall in Las Vegas to mark the anniversary this weekend.
Brandon Flowers used to live across the road from the casino and named the album after it. A ticket to the show comes with a special Sam’s Town tour of Las Vegas, the hometown The Killers are so proud of.
I visited Sam’s Town in April 2016. I had just seen The Killers play Las Vegas Arena. It was a 15 minute Uber from my hotel on The Strip, and at 8pm on a Tuesday evening it was packed with people playing the slots.
Hot Fuss, which turned 10 in 2014 did not get such a celebration. Hot Fuss is colloquially known as The Killers’ best album. In fact, Sam’s Town was roundly savaged by reviewers, a Rolling Stone article the most famous example.
It probably didn’t help that Brandon Flowers said while recording it that, ‘this album is one of the best albums of the past 20 years’, but I like to think he will be proved right, if not too far off the money in the future. It competes robustly with its contemporaries at least. Think about the alt-rock bands that were in their infancy in and around 2006.
Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, The Wombats, The Strokes, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Foals and Interpol. A formidable (and incomplete) list. The mid 2000’s were a special time for alt-rock music.
Call me bias, but I argue that “When You Were Young” stands up just as good as any of the best songs those bands released at that time, and I say the same for Sam’s Town as an album.
I love all of those bands too (obviously not as much as The Killers) and I think Sam’s Town’s standing now and at its eventual 20 year anniversary stacks up superbly to anything made by those wonderful bands.
And by the way, if only there was an alt-rock equivalent now of how well we were treated with those mid-2000’s bands bursting onto the scene at once. I think we’ll look back in 50 years time as the mid 2000s as a special period of alt-rock music.
Sam’s Town celebrates 10 years in Australia on September 30th, while the milestone hits the UK on October 2nd and October 3rd in the US.
Connect with Anthony on Twitter HERE.