The Killer’s “Pressure Machine,” a Springsteen-inspired folk-rock concept album, is able to tell the story of small-town Utah with grace even if it leaves some of the details out. For that, the album earns four out of five stars.
“Pressure Machine” is the latest album of the Las Vegas-based rock band, The Killers. The band, arguably the most famous musical group to hail from Vegas (Brendon Urie being the most infamous), achieved great success as young and rebellious Mormon apostate with Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town achieving status as some of the most influential and best-selling rock albums of the 2000s.
Corresponding with frontman and lead singer Brandon Flowers’ return to his Mormon and Utah roots, the past two records take the listener on a discographical road trip out of Vegas, leaving the Valley with the Heartland Rock album “Imploding the Mirage.” Afterwards, they land solidly in the melancholic, mandolin-blasting and Old Testament-quoting Utah highlands with “Pressure Machine.”
Conceptually, the album is an anthology of the residents of Nephi, Utah, and their inability to cope with their society. The opening track “West Hills” tells the story of a man who chooses suicide after been imprisoned for opiate addiction. The protagonists of “Pressure Machine,” and perhaps Flowers’ himself, appear to often conflict violating the laws or norms of their towns as tantamount to violating God’s laws and natural codes, such as the “West Hills” lyric “They got me for possession of enough to kill / The horses that run free in the West Hills.”
The next track introduces the motif of the town’s rail track acting as a divine force, both bringing people and their livelihoods in and out of the town, as well as killing two teenage lovers in “Quiet Town.” A field recording reveals the train to be a loud and ever-constant presence that takes the lives of people on an almost annual basis.
“Terrible Thing” delivers the most tragic and isolated track with Flowers singing from the perspective of a gay teenager in this small town, holding a long rope of silk “on the verge of a terrible thing.” The track sharply mocks the simplistic view of small-town America given in the previous track. The town that does not lock its doors at night becomes a “cobweb” and “barb-wired town, with barb-wired dreams.”
“Cody” offers the album’s only other critical view of its subject, the misanthropic and womanizing teenager that gives the track its namesake. Still as rustic as its predecessors and offering solid drumbeat, the song has a faster tempo that keeps the track compelling. It also offers a rebuke of what a non-spiritual and secular life can result in, primarily the unsatisfying promise of “If we get lucky, we’ll get loud and we’ll drink whiskey from a plastic jug.”
However, despite accurate depictions of the hardships and darker side of seemingly idyllic country life, it fails to address the underlying aspects that create the tragedies described in “Pressure Machine.”
While there are three songs dedicated to the opioid epidemic, there is no mention of the external causes that could lead to the “hillbilly heroin pills” that infect Nephi or the socio-economic conditions that convince the residents of Nephi to choose narcotics, affairs and suicide-by-train as an escape.
In fact, it is impossible to drive from Vegas to Nephi without understanding that the residents are acutely aware that larger political decisions are directly impacting their lives. Passersby give considerable attention to what it views as the culprits responsible for their way of life falling into disrepair.
Perhaps the most likely explanation is that The Killers understood this and decided that the town would be better served to the rest of the world with those parts left unsaid. However, this omission does not take away from the fact that each story manges to be heartfelt, and each track is well-mixed and enjoyable to listen to. It is safe to say that The Killers’ venture into Springsteen and Willy Nelson’s territory is a success.