The trouble with being earnest is that it makes you an easy target for anyone who doesn’t care as much as you do.
That generalization is especially true when it comes to rock music. It’s a lot easier—and less risky—to strike an angry, cynical, rebellious or cooler-than-thou musical pose than to risk sounding like you care too much. But there are exceptions. Bruce Springsteen jumps to mind. As does U2. And Coldplay’s Chris Martin has unapologetically donned this mantle of rock earnestness as well. So it’s a small collection, but a powerful one, since bands with such big, beating, sometimes bleeding hearts seem to demand an arena-rock stage as big as the archetypal themes of love and longing and hope and loss they sing about.
The Killers, headed by outspoken and devout Mormon Brandon Flowers, is bent on joining the club.
“From Here on Out” confronts us with the importance of forgiveness along life’s uncertain paths. “Flesh and Bone” describes something like a spiritual battle in which truth prevails over fear and (maybe) even the devil himself. “I’ve gone through life white-knuckled,” Flowers begins. “I square up and break through the chains/And I hit like a raging bull/Anointed by the blood, I take the reins/ … They’ll call me a contender/They’ll listen for the bell/With my face flashing crimson from the fires of hell.” The title track takes a similarly stalwart stance, and “Be Still” almost feels like a prayer of blessing as it urges strugglers and stragglers to press forward (“Rise up like the sun/Labor till the work is done/Be still/One day you’ll leave/Fearlessness on your sleeve”).
“Runaways” digs into the album’s core by majoring on a man’s commitment to his wife and child, mentioning that he was strong enough to turn an out-of-wedlock pregnancy into a catalyst for their marriage (“We got engaged on a Friday night/I swore on the head of our unborn child that I could take care of the three of us”). Then, when they’re tempted at times to flee from each other, the man determines, “I knew it when I met you, I’m not gonna let you run away.”
We hear something similar on “The Way It Was,” where Flowers recalls the blissful early days of romance (“Back when this thing was running on momentum, love and trust”), then longingly asks if the glory of young love can be reclaimed after it’s withered (“Darling/Darling/If we go on/Can it be/The way it was/When we met?”). On “Deadlines and Commitments,” it seems as if a man’s beloved has perhaps moved out. Still, he promises, “There is a place/Here in this house/That you can stay/Catch you, darling/I’ll be waiting/I am by your side.”
“Heart of a Girl” relates a man’s innocent wonder at getting to know a young woman. The song ends with a reflection, it would seem, on God’s guidance (“Deep in the night, I feel the presence/Of something that was long ago told to me/There is a hand guiding the river/The river to the wide open sea”). That’s followed by, again, the idea that love shouldn’t be easily sundered (“And deep in my heart, in any game/On any mountain, no I’m not afraid/Standing on stone, you stand beside me/And honor the plans that were made”).
And there’s still more on this subject: At first blush, “Miss Atomic Bomb” appears to be a wistful reminiscence about a guy losing his virginity. But the song then describes the aftermath of “Miss Atomic Bomb” detonating the boy’s virtue, a shift which reframes the story as a cautionary tale about the price he paid for a relationship that exploded. “Cast out of the night, well you’ve got a foolish heart,” he says. “So you took your place, but the fall from grace was the hardest part/It feels just like a dagger buried deep in your back/You run for cover, but you can’t escape the second attack/Your soul was innocent, she kissed him and she painted it black.” He sums it up with, “Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“A Matter of Time” more directly affirms the permanence of marriage (“We belong in this forever/Ain’t that what it’s all about?/Make the promise and keep it/Come hell or high water/We’d figure it out”). And that’s even as a wounded man tells his wife how deeply their ongoing conflict is hurting him.
That song uncharacteristically ends up in a less than hopeful place, I’ll note. (But even in that, the pain caused by not sticking it out comes through loud and clear.)
Love is hard. Life is good. Life is hard. Love is good. Stick to it.
Those intersecting truisms handsomely frame Battle Born, an achingly upbeat, arena-shaking reminder that we don’t have to let go of the beauty, glory and innocent promise of youth even when the miles and years and heartaches of life tempt us to do so. “When they knock you down, you’re gonna get back on your feet,” Flowers admonishes on the title track. “When they break your heart/When they cause your soul to mourn/Remember what I said/Boy, you was battle born.”
Never mind, then, what “works” in rock ‘n’ roll. Clearly this is a band that fully appreciates the importance of being earnest.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.