Biding time at a juncture when they don't necessarily need to, the Killers released the odds-n-sods collection Sawdust in November 2007, a mere 13 months after their second album, Sam's Town. If the title suggests that the group is digging further into a preposterous fixation on faux Americana, this grab bag of B-sides, new songs, covers, stray tracks, and re-recordings feels more like a sop to the fans who found the Springsteen worship hard to stomach. There's not as much Boss here but the ghost of The Joshua Tree still lingers, particularly in the clatter of the echoing Edge guitars, but that's married to the Killers' studied new wave moves, which is a better fit for that sweeping sound anyway. Better fit doesn't necessarily mean a perfect fit, however -- the return to the Killers' stylish throb only emphasizes their scattershot songwriting, where they can get elements right but they can't quite tie it all together. Tellingly, the best moments are leftovers from Hot Fuss -- whether it's the cool glam groove of the leftover "Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf" or "The Ballad of Michael Valentine," which does the cod-Americana better than Sam's Town -- but too much of the newer stuff clatters around pointlessly, all pomp and no circumstance. This goes double for the directionless Lou Reed duet "Tranquilize," which plays as if Bowie decided to have Lou sing on Tonight, then it goes triple for a stupifyingly silly "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," where the Killers seem like kids in cowboy hats even more than they did when they were kicking around the desert outskirts of Vegas. Covers don't treat the Killers well at all, as they reveal how hammy Brandon Flowers is at his core (swapping Mark Knopfler's sly, dry delivery for Flowers' community theater bluster robs "Romeo and Juliet" of its delicate beauty). When Flowers is in his natural setting, supported by glistening waves of keyboards and guitars that ring like synths, that ridiculous theatricality can be a bit of a guilty pleasure, and Sawdust does indeed contain some moments of grand pomp, but its scattershot nature works against the band as it winds up emphasizing the lingering question from Sam's Town, that the Killers have a hell of a lot of ideas but they just don't know what the hell to do with them.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Lou Reed