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Killers knocking 'em dead with 'Hot Fuss'

May 18, 2005 - When Brandon Flowers first started writing songs and formed his first group, Blush Response, he found himself pursuing a sound that wasn't exactly a chart-busting trend of the late '90s — the keyboard-driven style of synth-pop.

"You know what it was, I met this guy at work at a golf course, and we loved the same bands," Flowers said, starting to explain the musical development of Blush Response. "So basically one day we decided to try to write songs. We loved music so much, and the reason I think it ended up being synth-pop is both of us had taken piano lessons when we were young and we didn't really play anything else. The only way we could write songs was on piano and keyboards. So we really got into keyboards."

Flowers ended up getting dumped by Blush Response in 2001, but he never really left his synth-pop leanings behind. That musical ingredient is one of the defining features of the group he now fronts — the Las Vegas-based breakout band, the Killers.

After being unceremoniously ditched by Blush Response, Flowers wasted little time in picking up the pieces. He answered an ad in a local newspaper placed by guitarist David Keuning. Soon after meeting, they wrote a song, "Mr. Brightside," that would play a key role in their future.

Flowers and Keuning quickly recruited a drummer and bassist to play gigs, adopted the band name the Killers — it was the name of a fictitious group in a New Order video — and went about building a repertoire, a local following and a career. By late 2002, the group's early rhythm section had been replaced by current bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, who proved to be more compatible with the songs filling the group's set lists.

The Killers also began to make noise outside of Las Vegas — far outside of the city, in fact. Around summer 2003, the group landed a deal with the independent British label Lizard King. An initial round of United Kingdom tour dates and the re-lease of "Mr. Brightside" as a limited edition single came next.

By fall 2003, the Killers' first shows in Britain had prompted glowing reviews in the country's famously hyperbolic music magazines, and this got the attention of the American record industry. After a showcase at the 2003 CMJ Music Conference in New York City, the Killers were signed by Island/Def Jam Records.

By the time the group's full-length debut CD, "Hot Fuss," arrived in stores in June, such magazines as Spin, Alternative Week-ly and Rolling Stone were touting the Killers as one of rock's hottest new bands.

Radio and rock fans have agreed. The CD has topped 2 million in sales and spawned two top-five modern-rock hits, "Mr. Bright-side" and "Somebody Told Me." The mo-mentum seems to be building still, as a new single, "Smile Like You Mean It" has jumped to No. 15 on Billboard magazine's modern-rock chart and the "Hot Fuss" CD recently climbed into the top 10 on Bill-board magazine's album chart. It checks in at No. 12 on the latest chart.

It's easy to understand the appeal of "Hot Fuss." The Killers have created a sound that stands out from the modern-rock pack. Flowers' keyboard lines and the danceable rhythms created by Vannucci and Stoermer give the Killers some of the synth-pop sound Flowers first pursued in Blush Response. But the band's songs also have a decidedly punchy guitar-rock element that gives the music much-needed edge and a modern sensibility.

The band's songs at times point a bit too obviously to their musical heroes. "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" betrays a strong Cure influence. The new single "Smile Like You Mean It" suggests a more upbeat New Order. There's more than a little Duran Duran in the current single "Some-body Told Me" and some U2 trademarks figure into "On Top."

But these songs are so catchy and well crafted that any derivative elements are easy to overlook. And on tunes where the influences aren't so obvious — such as "Mr. Brightside," "Andy, You're a Star" and "Change Your Mind" — the Killers sound like a band that could develop into a truly inventive and potent long-term force on the rock scene.

In particular, the Killers are getting noticed as a band that might prove that rock can be danceable music. That doesn't seem like a novel idea, though, to Flowers.

"All the bands and concerts that I went to when I was younger, like Morrissey and the Cure, they're rock bands," he said. "For whatever reason, you don't really no-tice it, but they're (dance) bands. And it's great. You can dance to the Beatles. People don't realize that. You don't stop to think that you're dancing to the Beatles. So it's a good element to have factored in music, other than just techno music."

The Killers perform Monday, May 23, at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. The show is sold out.

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