23 October 2006

Short Question. Long Answer.

Nine days ago, after seeing the Killers at the Great Saltair (otherwise known as the dump of a venue on the shores of the stinking Great Salt Lake), Kyle asked me a question. I told him I'd have to think about it. I'm sure he thought I was either avoiding an argument or avoiding the question completely. He should know me better than that. I have considered the question. And I am prepared to answer. I'll do my best to keep the response concise... but there are no guarantees. My head's a bit scrambled tonight and the monster pork chop (plus calamari plus banana cream pie in a coconut pastry shell) I consumed at dinner with some fine Londoners isn't doing anything to straighten me out. Anyway, on to the question:

"Would you call the Killers a postmodern band?"

At first I wasn't sure. I was skeptical. Postmodern seems so important. So intellectual. So intentional. It sounds like Warhol and the Velvet Underground. And I'm pretty certain that the Killers are nowhere near that level. But I let the thought sink in. I hit the wikipedia entry on postmodernism for a refresher (it's been more than a couple years since my pre-requisite Literary Theory course). And then I heard the words of one fine Modern American Lit professor ringing in my ears—and, yes, the words were ringing just a bit louder (and probably at a much different frequency) than the common, everyday, nonsensical ringing in my ears. You know, the same ringing that makes it impossible for me to hear and understand conversations in a crowded restaurant. Where was I? Modern American Lit. Ed Cutler. His remark: "Las Vegas is the ultimate postmodern city."

"The answer. To the question. In my mind."

In case you've been living under a rock (or by the strange chance that you have a life that extends beyond the shallow reaches of pop music), the Killers hail from Las Vegas, NV. And the new album is all the proof you need of their Las Vegas-ness. Each song travels from decade to decade, swirling between 80s electronica and 70s bombast, 90s irony and 00s dance-rock. So many things have been written about Sam's Town. It's been ripped as a Springsteen rip-off. It's been derided as a lackluster follow-up. But the only thought I have as I spin through the album again and again is this... this is a Las Vegas album. Not a hanging-out-in-Las-Vegas album, not a bachelor-party-in-Vegas album, and certainly not a honeymoon-in-Vegas album. This is a living-in-Vegas-for-an-extended-period-of-time album. A surrounded-by-facades-of-greatness album. I want to believe that Sam's Town is intentionally shallow. That its lack of concrete lyricism and fascinating musicianship is consistent with the postmodern (there it is!) wonderland of false New York skylines and Eiffel Towers.

I'm probably too lazy to dig into a real piece of musical criticism and comparative theory here. In fact, I know I am. But, yes, Kyle. The Killers are a postmodern band. For good and for bad. But they put on a devil of a show nine days ago. And Brandon Flowers' mustache should serve as a year-round reminder of the beauty of Cinco de Mustache (it's only six months away...).

A three-minute, thirty-three-second sample of postmodernism:

For Reasons Unknown - The Killers - Sam's Town - m4a

My mustache is more postmodern than your mustache...


Jimboborazzala said...

Great post. I guess I never thought of Vegas as Postmodern. I'll have to give it some more thought. What do you think about "When You Were Young" being written to a 25 year-old Mormon girl who's still clinging to her Mia Maid list of what she wants in a man? For some reason, that's all I think about when I listen to that song.

Josh said...

I had Ed Cutler for the first half of 20th Century American lit. It was one of three or four classes that I consider valuable to my education. I think about his Vegas discussion all the time. And "simulacrum" is one of my most favorite concepts I think I've ever learned. (That and Ockham's Razor.) You've definitely got it right about the post-modernity of The Killers. And about wanting to believe the shallowness of Sam's Town is intentional.

Viva Ed Cutler.

upto12 said...

Viva Ed Cutler is right. One of the smartest dudes around.

I'm still torn by this post. No one wants to read 20,000 words about the postmodernity of the Killers... but I feel like I'm too lazy to develop a solid bit of theory. Postmodernism is good and bad. Warhol good. Caesar's Palace, the Venetian, New York New York and Paris (all casinos) bad.

In this case, I think that Sam's Town is nothing if not interesting. And it's a good listen.

I certainly think that a critic who had spent 8 years living in North Las Vegas would have a much more favorable (and understanding) reaction to Sam's Town than the critic living in Greenwich Village or Chicago or Seattle. That's all...

Kyle said...

See, I told you so! They are the Moulin Rouge of rock, the Philippe Stark's Louis Ghost Armchair of the airwaves.