Coronavirus gave some time for The Killers and Brandon Flowers to stop and reflect, with the result being Pressure Machine – a soft and folky record about his hometown of Nephi, in Utah. The arena sized bombast, pop and pomp of last years Imploding the Mirage is scaled back in favour of restraint and reflection, with Bruce Springsteen’s stark acoustic album Nebraska a major influence.
This is a sombre affair, with the topics covered being drug addiction, suicide, divorce, affairs, death and the pressures of life. The first one being the subject of ‘West Hills’, an evocative opener about America’s opioid crisis with lashings of mandolins that builds to a fuzz drenched crescendo. The harmonica fuelled folk of ‘Terrible Thing’ is about a gay teenager in a conservative and religious town comtemplating suicide – it is touching and melancholic, and the strongest tip of the hat to Bruce’s Nebraska. Personal highlight ‘In The Car Outside’ is about a man trapped in a loveless marriage and turning to an old flame – with the fraught and pained lyrics juxtaposed against bubbly and dynamic indie rock.
There is an initial sense of shock as you expect some rousing, anthemic pop but give it time and the record’s charms wash over you. ‘Cody’ is a delightful slice of folk rock that starts soft and subtle, building in power to a soaring solo courtesy of Dave Keuning – who makes a return on this record after his absence on Mirage. ‘Quiet Town’ has a similar sense of restraint, a real life tale of two childhood sweethearts getting run down by a train that mixes together folk and 80s alternative. The title track is a sweet slice of acoustic, a soft tale of bringing up a family and being working class – replete with images of happy meals, mowing the grass and the years tumbling by.
This is not a record with immediacy, it is one you slowly soak in and discover its intricacies. It is a mature and moving piece of work, telling 11 tales of a small American town in an honest and genuine way. Although I found myself missing a bit of cheer, and the bombast, the massive hooks and the ridiculously hyperbolic lyrics of old.