The pre-concert obsessions of rock stars generally revolve around green room snacks or the order of the song list. For Brandon Flowers, the sinuous frontman of Las Vegas band the Killers, it was the color of the confetti. When bits of paper rained down on a crowd of 65,000 fans at London’s Hyde Park in July, they perfectly matched the bubblegum pink of his leather blazer. “I had been planning that for months,” says Flowers the next day, adding that the crowd’s euphoric response was “like plugging into the universe—almost like eternity or something. I hope I never get used to that.”
The Hyde Park show, the Killers’ first major concert in five years, was a walk-up to the release of the band’s fifth album, Wonderful, Wonderful . And the pink jacket—a nod to the theme of the record’s first single, “The Man”—was what the now-36-year-old Flowers wore for the release of the band’s debut album, Hot Fuss, in 2004. It was the moment that introduced a key ingredient in the Killers’ popularity: Flowers’s rakish public persona. The lyrics for “The Man” subtly mock a hubris once compared to that of a TV evangelist: “Nothing can break, nothing can break me down/Don’t need no advice, I got a plan.”
“My vision of what masculinity is has definitely changed,” he says. “As I’ve had more experience, I’ve come to realize it’s more about compassion and empathy.”
Flowers grew up idolizing the battling Gallagher brothers of Oasis, inspiration, perhaps, for his early swagger; in an early interview, he remarked of emo and pop-punk bands, “There’s a creature inside me that wants to beat all those bands to death.” Not long after, he apologized for that comment, and the bad-boy shtick was always an awkward fit; Flowers was raised, and remains, a devout, teetotal Mormon who frequently and unironically exclaims, “Holy cow!”—as in his response to early efforts by the band’s label, Island, to sensationalize them. “Holy cow,” says Flowers, “I’ve heard label presidents talk about how their favorite artists are stars both on and off stage—because of the controversy that they were whipping up—and my internal conscience, or whatever, just knew that wasn’t right.”
The Killers’s global popularity (with roughly 22 million albums sold to date) comes with benefits. “I don’t want to cater to a specific thing to try and be on the radio,” says Flowers. Wonderful, Wonderful , produced by Jacknife Lee (U2, REM), introduces funkier layers to the band’s anthemic synth pop, as well as decidedly un-poppy themes. The song Flowers is proudest of, “Rut,” is from the perspective of his wife, Tana Mundkowsky. “She has a complex version of [post-traumatic stress disorder] from her childhood, and it’s her speaking,” he says. “It’s emotional and the only song I’ve had to sit down with her and play at the piano, just to make sure it was OK with her.”
Mundkowsky and Flowers met as teenagers in Las Vegas and have three young sons. Parenthood, he says, has had its own softening effect. “When I see how different my kids are—yet they came from the same two people—it just opens your eyes to every person you see on the street, and the differences in the struggles.”
A third track, “Some Kind of Love,” offered a chance to meet a longtime hero, Brian Eno. The song was written over an Eno instrumental, but his camp wouldn’t permit the Killers to release it. “We tried to change the song,” says Flowers, “but we could never make it as good.” Shortly before the album was mastered, Flowers enlisted mutual friends to email and text Eno: “Just at least let me talk to him and explain it.” Finally, he got Eno on the phone, and permission was quickly secured.
Their conversation offered something else: the opportunity to clear up a perceived slight. Flowers was told that Eno had declined to produce the Killers’ second album, Sam’s Town. “For 11 years, every time I’ve gone on stage or put my pen to paper, I’ve carried with me that I’m not good enough for Brian Eno,” says Flowers. “So I said to him, ‘Were you asked to do Sam’s Town ?’ He said no. Who knows if it was some shady move from my record label or whatever, but that felt good.”
Wonderful, Wonderful will be released on Virgin EMI on September 22 .