After the mixed success that was Imploding the Mirage, The Killers have released an album, unlike anything they’ve made before. Pressure Machine, released via Island Records/UMG Recordings, is a quiet and subdued album that acts as a character study of the American Mountain West, in all its glory, banality, and pain.
Now and again, Pressure Machine harkens back to previous albums like Sam’s Town, but by and large, this album works on its own. Dynamic synthesizers and grandiose guitar solos are traded for quiet, contemplative strings sections and moving piano melodies propped up by interviews conducted in Flowers’ hometown of Nephi, UT.
These interviews featured sporadically throughout the album offer a unique way of framing the conversation around the American Mountain West. A conversation which by and large, is driven by unglamorous tales of drug abuse and the religious/social pressure to conform. When looking at the entire album, over half of the album features these interviews as a way of moving the album’s plot along. For some, this may seem like a rather clunky attempt at cramming as much information as possible into an hour-long album.
On the other hand, however, one could argue that this perceived clunkiness is by design. As someone who lived approximately 6hrs from Nephi, in the American Mountain West of Wyoming, this rugged/unrefined approach is reminiscent of the area. It isn’t this glamourous all-put-together area, things don’t fit, and things don’t make sense, and so, the fact that this album is “rough around the edges” merely adds to the artwork and shows the versatility and mastery Flowers has over his storytelling.
If Pressure Machine were to have the same refined approach as Hot Fuss or even Battle Born, it wouldn’t have worked.
From start to finish, Pressure Machine is a masterful work of art depicting the duality of living in a small town. A listeners’ first glimpse into this duality is on “Quiet Town,” where we get a look into what the train means to the town of Nephi.
“Oh yeah, oh no, the train, the train. Every two or three years, the train kills somebody. Every two or three years, yeah. Everybody knows about the train, ok? You hear it constantly.”
Following the interview, the rest of the song recounts the virtues of these hardworking people and how the town struggles to deal with the opioid crisis and with a slate of teenage deaths. This duality is further established in “In the Car Outside,” where we get a glimpse into the social lives of those in Nephi and how by and large, they’re willing to help one another. Granted, although this track has a heartwarming feel to it, insidious darkness lurks at the periphery with references to “the train” seeping in.
“I told her if she ever needed a helping hand / I would lend, swear to god / It’s like the part of me that’s screaming not to jump gets lost / In the sound of the train, it’s a lot.”
And at the end of the album on “The Getting By,” we see Flowers writing an honest love letter to life in Nephi. But much like “Quiet Town” and “In the Car Outside,” this track closes with the sound of a locomotive train approaching. In conclusion, The Killers’ Pressure Machine is this bleak, nihilistic look into the death of the American Mountain West. And although Flowers does have moments of hope, the album seems to depict the death of innocence for many who grew up in towns like Nephi.