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Review: ‘Rebel Diamonds’ lays out two decades of musical transformation

The Killers release second greatest hits record
Courtesy of Island Records.
Ruben Plascencia
Courtesy of Island Records.

After releasing “Your Side of Town” in August, The Killers returned with their 20th anniversary hits album, “Rebel Diamonds.” The compilation was marketed as “20 songs for 20 years” and includes 17 songs from studio albums, the band’s two latest singles and a new song, “Spirit.”  

The first six tracks are from The Killers’ highly-regarded debut and sophomore albums, “Hot Fuss” and “Sam’s Town.” At this stage in their careers, the band was one of many alternative rock outfits rising out of new wave rock at the turn of the century. Two decades later, “Mr. Brightside,” “Read My Mind” and the other hits featured continue to be staples of a The Killers concert. “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” despite its popularity, still seems like a deeper cut on “Rebel Diamonds” in comparison to the other early hits. 

The next five tracks are from the 2008 album “Day & Age” and 2012 album “Battle Born.” “Human,” “Spaceman” and “A Dustland Fairytale” were obvious picks from the former, bearing the same popularity as “Somebody Told Me” and other early 2000s hits. “Battle Born,” however, seems a bit underrepresented, featuring only its standout “Runaways” and a calmer comfort song, “Be Still.” While the band had to make space for a new decade of music, songs like “Miss Atomic Bomb,” written about frontman Brandon Flowers’ unfaithful partner which also inspired “Mr. Brightside,” or “The Way It Was” are worthy tracks that weren’t chosen. 

The 12th track, “The Man,” is the standalone feature from 2017’s otherwise melancholy “Wonderful Wonderful.” It pairs the character’s narcissistic monologue with a loud backing track and groovy baseline. While almost all of the album highlights vulnerabilities and dedicates loving messages to Flowers’ wife, “The Man” noisily stands out–exactly what he would want. 

“The Man” is followed by three tracks from 2020’s “Imploding the Mirage,” in which the band combined pop and heartland elements. The audio mixing of the “Rebel Diamonds” versions makes the songs seem glossier and the reverb much more apparent. The fast-paced “Dying Breed” has a harmonica added in behind the melody. The changes don’t necessarily fit into what the band does on the rest of “Imploding the Mirage” but don’t negatively affect the songs either. 

These subtle stylistic changes segue nicely into the rustic folk-rock “Pressure Machine” and “Quiet Town,” from the 2021 record also named “Pressure Machine.” The latest studio album follows hardships faced by citizens of Nephi, Utah, where Flowers spent part of his childhood. It is arguably the band’s most unique and emotionally-heavy album, with Flowers left so impacted by revisiting the town that he canceled work on the band’s next album halfway through. In a later interview, he implied the band’s usual sound felt forced and the overall vibe of “Pressure Machine” may be revisited by the band.

“Spirit” rounds out the tracklist by lyrically serving as a look into that future. “Your Side of Town” and “boy” were popular alternative singles during either’s release and had a familiar sound to the band’s “Day & Age” era music. “Spirit” is a crisp sounding track and does end up sounding like a usual The Killers number with its synth backgrounds, but it has some clear individuality.

Flowers uses spoken verses, a rarity for The Killers. Lyrically and thematically, “Spirit” is similar to Flowers’ 2010 solo album, “Flamingo,” which follows his transition from a blue-collar Americana upbringing to city lights, rock culture and a celebrity lifestyle. Like the doubts he expressed on “Playing with Fire,” Flowers may again be singing about his transition into a new style of music, this time with three bandmates tagging along toward that heartland, small-town sound. 

Overall, “Rebel Diamonds” does a masterful job at displaying The Killers’ musical and creative evolution over the past two decades. One nitpicky shortcoming is its song selection: good tracks would be lost either way, but it’s unfortunate to not see “Smile Like You Mean It” or another hit from “Battle Born” make the cut. Deep cuts from “Day & Age” and “Battle Born” specifically, such as “This Is Your Life” or “Here With Me,” contain some of Flowers’ most creative writing and emotional delivery, so it’s a shame to not see the records get as much recognition.

“Spirit” is a last track for what it conveys and because of Flowers’ execution of a different vocal style which can only be compared to the verses in “Mr. Brightside.”  As a whole, “Rebel Diamonds” is a 9/10 collection and should leave the band’s “legion of victims” eager to hear what the band releases next, regardless of what musical style it’s in and what influences The Killers emulate. 

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