When Las Vegas rockers The Killers officially hit the scene with their debut Hot Fuss in 2004, the world wasn’t sure what to make of them. One half of them seemed to scream indie rock stars while the other desperately wished they were members of The Cure. They seemed to be chasing a musical look and sound that expired a decade ago, but they were making alt-rock hits that couldn’t be ignored. Hot Fuss built an entire legacy for the band off its catalogue of greatest hits, and it remains one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
The first half of the album is a knockout right away. It contains enough hits to last other artists an entire career. We begin with ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine,’ a pleasing alt-rock hit with a not-so-pleasing subtext. The third narrative in a casual murder trilogy, lead singer Brandon Flowers acts as a narrator being interrogated for the death of his ex-girlfriend. (The first in the trilogy is ‘Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf’ from 2007’s Sawdust, which sees the murderer prepare for the killing, and the second, ‘Midnight Show,’ pops up later in Hot Fuss and details the murder happening.) It’s a bold start, certainly, but without reading too much into the lyrical detail, the song itself is a strong reflection of the fusion of 80s new wave and alt-rock the band aimed to create.
From there, it’s onto the golden four. The iconic ‘Mr. Brightside,’ which centers around jealousy and anxiety relating to an ex, the end-of-movie credits ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, which paints the picture of growing up, the anthem to end all anthems ‘Somebody Told Me’, which cleverly pairs writing a song with the metaphor of relationships, and the chilling gospel feature ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ which sees Flowers getting spiritual. It’s a solid 15 minutes of straight rocking, each track proving to be either the anthem for the generation that didn’t grow up with the post-punk movement of the 80s, or a nostalgic wave for those that did.
It became clear soon enough that The Killers had a strangeness about them, an edge that held them over other alt-rock bands. And it all seemed to revolve around Flowers. The lead singer had a flair for the theatrical, spinning every track into a cinematic story (à la the murder trilogy) and creating an aesthetic that seemed to belong to everywhere but nowhere all at once. The Killers somehow managed to be timeless while perfectly securing a sense of a certain era, it was always just unclear what era.
The next half of the album sees the band still participating in their storytelling, but the story is dying down. The songs are slower and more reflective of Joy Division than The Cure. In the synthy ‘Andy, You’re A Star,’ Flowers makes an idol out of his high school bully and the soft ‘Believe Me Natalie’ creates a New York party girl who catches HIV from a dirty needle and dies. Fan favourite and euphoric hit ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ is really the only personal hit in the sea of theatrics, documenting a troubled relationship of Flowers’ and how he couldn’t see the toxicity of it because he was so in love. But just before we think the band are the greatest indie rockers of our generation, we’re hit with ‘Glamourous Indie Rock and Roll,’ a piss-take about the band actually being indie.
For a debut into the musical world, it’s hard to find one that tops Hot Fuss. Although each half can feel like two different albums, it’s an incredible gesture to the talent the band has. It was impossible to listen to that album and not want more, whether it was wanting more of the murder trilogy or simply just wanting another soundtrack to romanticise your days. Hot Fuss, while paying respect to the fallen ancestors, defined an entire new genre. And with it, an entire generation. All you have to do is play the opening chords of ‘Mr. Brightside’ in a room full of people to know exactly what we mean.