“Why So Serious?” The 2012 Mixtape – The Killers’ “Spaceman”

2-spaceman

Stats
– Length: 4:43
– Originally released on: Day & Age (November 4, 2008)
– Samples: “Yes We Can: North Carolina” (BarackObama.com), “President-Elect Barack Obama in Chicago” (Barackobama.com) and “Obama at the Alfred E. Smith dinner” (MSNBC).

You’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea / You better look it over before you make that leap…

The first time that I heard “Spaceman” in full was at The Killers’ headline set at Montreal’s Osheaga festival in August. It was the only new song the band played that night, but I was immediately taken with the vocal melody, which I thought eclipsed anything on the hit-and-miss Sam’s Town. Looking back now at a YouTube performance from that show, though, it’s clear just how much a work in progress that first taste really was.

And this is why despite their crippling flaws – Brandon Flowers’ vocal shortcomings, a lack of sonic certainty, ridiculous visions of grandeur far exceeding their grasp – I have to admit that I’m thankful for The Killers’ existence. Somebody has to stick up for great pop music in this day and age,* and I’d rather it be them than, say, Max Martin and Dr. Luke.

* I read through this post four times before I noticed this awful, movie-critic worthy pun that I unknowingly placed here. I’m so disgusted with my subconscious right now that I’m sharing my pain with you. Misery loves company.

In the hip hop era, pop music has been almost exclusively the domain of the svengali producer who, either as faceless manipulator or public icon, finds malleable pop vessels and sends them soaring into the stratosphere. But there has always been a place in the annals of music for pop bands, self-made and self-constructed, whose commitment to the hook triumphs over all. I shouldn’t have to always choose between Radiohead and Britney; a pop-lovers’ soul should have some sort of middle ground on which to rest. So much of the music that I listen to aims at being the new post-Rubber Soul Beatles, which is cool, but the world needs pre-Rubber Soul Beatles too.

The Killers are no Beatles, obviously. They’re probably not even a great band, what with their crippling inconsistency. But at their best, they have a knack for pop hooks and thus far have written a handful of this decade’s best. The secret of “Spaceman’s” success is that it’s so ambitious in its quest for pop infamy that it keeps trying when most other songs would just give up.

Think about it: how many other bands would just stop at that great vocal melody I heard in Montreal? Just leave on the simple bassline, the repetitive guitar strum and release “Spaceman” to the world? Your local bar band would give their left kidneys and/or their bassist for a hook like that. But not the Killers. They have to find MORE hooks to shove into the song: a reworked bass riff, a synthesizer assault, a piano-only chorus refrain and, to top it off, a chorus of “OH OH OH OHs” to start and end the track.

In my imagination, I can picture those chants being the last thing added to the song, since they’re absent from all the live versions prior to October. I imagine the band sitting down with their producer, Stuart Price, to go over the track. I see them counting through the song’s three or four massive hooks and reacting not with satisfaction, but with discontentment. They’re greedy – they want MORE. So someone – let’s say, oh, the drummer – decides that a little chant might seal the deal. So back to the microphone Brandon Flowers goes and proceeds to stuff yet another seemingly unnecessary but, in actuality, TOTALLY necessary hook into the song.

This is excess. This is madness. This is great pop music.

Download: The Killers – “Spaceman” (Man from Krypton)

Within Why So Serious?, “Spaceman” becomes the middle part of a three-part Obama trilogy, providing me a great opportunity to rip from the candidate’s comedy routine at the Alfred E. Smith banquet at the end of September. This was the first transition I came up with for this mix, and it inspired me to actually follow through with this whole thing. So we’ve covered Obama’s motivational philosophy, followed by his superhuman qualities…what’s the next logical step? Ego. Pure ego.

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