Killing Time

The Killers move forward into the past

"That's how Vegas kind of suffers," Vannucci says. "A club will open up and close just as quickly, because it doesn't have the funding. You've got to remember, places like the House of Blues and the joint at the Hard Rock are funded by the hotel and casino industries, so even when there aren't any shows, they can still stay afloat. It doesn't work that way with other clubs, so a lot of them only last for a few months -- and the bands seem to follow that same trend. Everybody gives it a good six months or so and then quits because nothing's happening for them. It's kind of sad, because I know of some great musicians and good songwriters there. But nothing's really come out of Vegas to put the place on the map."

For the Killers, the lack of a distinct Vegas sound worked to their advantage. "We're obviously not a Strip band or anything like that," Vannucci says. "There's nothing like us in Las Vegas, which is what made us stand out in the first place." At the same time, their approach was far from anarchic. Rather than railing against the sort of old-time entertainment associated with Vegas regulars like Wayne Newton, they modified it for their own use by donning natty jackets and adapting a showy stage persona. As Vannucci half-jokingly puts it, "We're definitely not rebelling against Wayne. We're embracing his greatness."

Overseas tastemakers reacted just as positively toward the Killers. In 2003, Lizard King, a British independent label, inked the band and transported it to England, prompting the requisite drooling. Somebody Told Me, an EP released on Lizard King in March 2004, justified such salivation when its title track and another cut, "Mr. Brightside," both hit the top ten in the United Kingdom. The Hot Fuss full-length, which arrived within months, quickly made a splash there and on this side of the Atlantic too.

Fuss' lack of pretense has a lot to do with its appeal. Whereas some groups on the Killers' wavelength feign innovation so strenuously that their borrowings lose any amusement value, these boys just want to have fun emulating the ditties that entranced them in their youth. "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" kicks off with helicopter effects and a hearty "whooo!" before evolving into a head-bopping groover that's pure Robert Smith, whereas "On Top" declares its allegiance to Duran Duran in its first line: "Remember 'Rio' and get down." Like Simon Lebon before him, Flowers loves to strike lyrical poses -- and the sexier, the better. Take "Midnight Show," in which he interrupts his throes of ecstasy to declare, "You got a real short skirt/I wanna look up, look up, look up, yeah, yeah!" The closing "Everything Will Be Alright," for its part, is a trippy, mid-tempo frolic that gives mindless pop a good name.

This easygoing attitude has made it simpler for Vannucci and company to enjoy their ride on the Hype Express. Some underground musicians heading toward the big time are consumed by guilt, but not the Killers, whose "Indie Rock 'n' Roll," which can be found only on the U.K. version of Hot Fuss, is a celebration, not an excuse for moping.

Still, Vannucci makes it clear that the Killers have standards. "We've had offers of being in video games and movies and beer ads and shit like that," he says, "and we could very well have taken those offers, so that we could blow up and have everybody in Middle America know who we are. But we don't want to do anything to compromise the integrity of the music or the band as a whole." Not that the Killers are unshakably opposed to such offers. According to Vannucci, "If someday we do a commercial or a video game, we want it to be right -- to be something that resembles us somehow or ties into what the Killers are all about. That'd be great, because we don't want to put the brakes on success, and we don't ever want to hide our music from anybody. We're really proud of it, and we want to show the world."

As for those originality questions that keep cropping up, Vannucci claims not to be bothered in the slightest. "We're being compared to some of the best bands that there've ever been, in my opinion," he says. "There's a lot worse things than that."

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