The Killers – Direct Hits
Buy: Direct Hits (Standard)
Ten years ago Las Vegas foursome The Killers burst onto the scene with their indie breakthrough hit ‘Mr Brightside’, finding fame with its follow-up ‘Somebody Told Me’ and then a string of hits from their debut album ‘Hot Fuss’, with a re-release of their initial single continuing their rise. Ten years later and a succession of big songs from three further albums, including many top ten singles, a break for a solo record from their lead singer and a series of Christmas-themed charity records, Brandon Flowers et al arrive with their first greatest hits compilation, cleverly entitled ‘Direct Hits’.
Available in two flavours, their best of package consists of either fifteen or eighteen songs, depending on whether you plump for the deluxe edition or not, plus a booklet of photos from across the years. It proudly declares via a front cover sticker to include ‘all their hit songs on one album’ but we’ll come to that statement later.
Whether you’ll enjoy the album comes down to one thing, as with most such packages: whether you enjoy the band or not. There are a lot out there who enjoyed their first album but saw subsequent releases as diminishing returns but for me I’ve always found them to be a solid band who, yes, changed their sound over time, but still released some strong singles more recently, not just in 2003 and 2004.
All the albums are reflected here. Direct Hits opens with the seminal end-of-night classic ‘Mr Brightside’, a story-song of unrequited love that is rightly labelled as one of their strongest songs. It certainly possesses than anthemic quality. ‘Somebody Told Me’ follows, the distinctive opening and subsequent riff still packing power and singability years later.
‘Smile Like You Mean It’, possibly the best non-hallowe’en track to sound like it comes from a horror film, captures the idea of ghosts of a different kind perfectly through its production, including a neat minimal use of autotune to emphasise the point of the lyrics, and the anthemic ‘All The Things That I’ve Done’ ties up the four singles from the first album with its chantable ‘I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier’ riff that is arguably more known than the title of the song.
Second album ‘Sam’s Town’ is represented by the band’s biggest hit firstly, ‘When You Were Young’, still a strong first cut from an album and one of their most singable with arguably their best guitar riff. The album also lends out the touching ballad-esque ‘Read My Mind’ and the driving-forward ‘For Reasons Unknown’ with a brilliant drum-led final third to the piece, but the omission of ‘Bones’, my personal favourite The Killers song of all time and a song that charted far higher than ‘For Reasons Unknown’, feels like the first mis-step on the compilation and makes a mockery of that sticker declaration I mentioned earlier.
Moving on to ‘Day and Age’ (my personal favourite of the band’s albums’ shows a disregard for any of b-side compilation Sawdust’s tracks, meaning the frankly brilliant ‘Tranquilize’ doesn’t appear, which aside from being a welcome addition would have been a well-appreciated tribute to the now late Lou Reed.
Forgetting that for a moment we do at least get ‘Human’ and ‘Spaceman’ from the album, two of the best songs the band have ever done, from the riff-friendly ‘Human’ with its memorable, if grammatically questionable, ‘Are we human or are we dancer’ hook inspired by gonzo journalism, to the poppy fast-paced ‘Spaceman’. With ‘The World We Live In’ not getting a look-in on the compilation we do at least get the touching ballad of ‘A Dustland Fairytale’, a truly underrated song from the band.
Moving into fourth album territory we get first cut ‘Runaways’, a switch to a more sombre The Killers first envisioned in Flowers’ solo work ‘Flamingo’. ‘Runaways’ is still a cracking single though after a few listens, a song that builds up to a typically excellent chorus. ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’, allegedly a ‘Mr Brightside’ sequel, is a quieter number but one that builds, again, to a touching lyrically strong single. ‘The Way It Was’, up next, is another good song, not quite top-drawer, but still enjoyable, though it’s inclusion over, say, ‘Here With Me’ from the same album or the better tracks from earlier on in their discography grates a little, especially when it wasn’t even released as a single but ‘Here With Me’ was.
As is usual with these compilations we do get some fresh material. Latest single ‘Shot At The Night’ isn’t the best thing the lads have done, and it fits into their sombre period more than their uptempo earlier material, but it’s a cracking number after a few listens that will have you singing along. ‘Just Another Girl’, the second fresh track, with its soaring aquatic-style production and emotive lyrics, is a welcome addition to the listing even if the lyrics are hardly revolutionary.
For those with the deluxe edition you get another fifteen minutes of material. The demo version of Mr Brightside is great to hear and the raw, gruff vocals of Flowers combined with a chorus that sounds like it’s sung by Dave Keuning instead, make a real difference and musically seems more interesting. It’s a much rawer sound but, arguably, is more accomplished than the final ‘Hot Fuss’ version. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the Calvin Harris remix of ‘When You Were Young’, a superfluous addition to proceedings that, whilst ticking all the boxes of a dance remix, turning the familiar riff into something much clubbier, is pretty middling and adds very little to the band’s oeuvre. Album closer ‘Be Still’, a non-single from their most recent album, sets the mood well for a closer with a grand, piano riff and a soaring Brandon Flowers vocal, but is probably the weakest track on the piece.
Direct Hits will keep casual fans of The Killers happy and I dare say it some fans, but it smacks of a missed opportunity as a record label-led cash-in for Christmas. The slavish following of chronological release order suggests a lack of imagination and a deluxe edition that includes just three extra, missable, tracks for your money continues that cash-in feel. For the extra fifteen minutes given over to the three bonus tracks and omitting the other non-single, you could get ‘Bones’, ‘Tranquilize’, ‘The World We Live In’ and ‘Here With Me’ onto the record, to make it truly living up to the ‘all their hit songs on one album’ label. Heck, you could probably even fit on fan-favourite ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ on too.
You could easily dispense of the superfluous ‘Be Still’ and Calvin Harris remix and move the demo – the only decent addition for fans on the deluxe edition – to a second disc, which could contain far more extra material including full quality versions of the band’s Christmas releases that only the chosen few have got on CD, with most having download versions.
Direct Hits is a worthy purchase for fans and casual admirers alike. But the track listing feels lacking and the compilation questionable in its choices, and it feels like a missed opportunity. It’s certainly not an accurate reflection of their ten years of making music, more like a half-hearted Christmas cash-in. What you get on the album is great, full of brilliant songs, but the omissions knock some of the shine off. A shame.