The heart usually sinks when confronted by a ‘rarities and B-sides’ album, especially one released so close to Christmas. There’s usually a reason why such tracks have been relegated to ‘rare’ and ‘B-side’ status – because they’re not very good. Such records are usually an excuse to rip off the fans who will buy absolutely everything.
So it’s with some cynicism that we approach Sawdust, a collection of unreleased tracks, alternative version of album tracks and quirky cover versions by Brandon Flowers and The Killers. As ever with these sort of albums, it’s a mixed bag, but the quality threshold does seem to be somewhat higher here.
Opening track Tranquilize showcases guest vocalist Lou Reed (complete with very wobbly vocals), and it’s fair to say that the song is more representative of the famously grumpy New York legend rather than the band most famous for Mr Brightside. Morose and downbeat, it takes its time to worm its way into your heart, but it’s an intriguing listen. It’s miles removed from the bombast of Sam’s Town and is a promising new direction for the band.
That’s the only clue we get about The Killers’ forthcoming third album though, as the rest of the album consists of out-takes from both Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town. At times, these are predictably mediocre – the bluster of All The Pretty Faces or the dull, plodding Sweet Talk – but surprisingly there are several excellent tracks that will leave you scratching your head as to why they’ve not seen the light of day before.
Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf, already gaining legendary status amongst Killers fans for being the first part of the ‘Murder Trilogy’, at last sees the light of day here, and it’s as good as you’d hoped – an infectiously rocking number that nicely fills in the gaps left by Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine and Midnight Show. Essential for any Killers fan in fact.
Under The Gun, another out-take from Hot Fuss, is another highlight with its naggingly catchy chorus of “kill me now, kill me now”, and once Show You How gets away from its annoying introduction of Flowers singing into an answerphone, it’s suitably stirring and epic. The swirling guitar riff of Spiderman 3 soundtrack staple Move Away also sounds terrific and the song itself is full of energy.
Things aren’t quite so interesting with the ‘alternative takes’ of album tracks – Glamourous Indie Rock And Roll and Where The White Boys Dance don’t really sound significantly different to the originals, whereas the title track from Sam’s Town is one of the few songs on that album that suits the bluster and bombast. Stripped down, it doesn’t quite sound the same.
Then there’s those cover versions: the Kenny Rogers classic Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town is excellent – shuffling, pretty, poignant – whereas their version of Joy Division‘s Shadowplay is just horrifying. The latter has a carbon copy of Peter Hook’s famous bassline, but Flower’s vocals can’t hope to compete with the dread and melancholy of Ian Curtis. It comes across as a karaoke-style cover, never the best way to tackle a Joy Division song.
There’s also a rather pointless cover of Dire Straits‘ Romeo & Juliet (a classic, no matter what the self-appointed ‘guardians of cool’ may think), which brings absolutely nothing new to the song whatsoever. At least Flowers didn’t attempt to copy Mark Knopfler‘s Geordie accent though. The album ends with a downbeat remix of Mr Brightside, which doesn’t quite have the urgency and vitality of the original.
The quality of some of the tracks on Sawdust does lift it above any accusations of ‘rip-off’. A nice Christmas present for that hardcore Killers fan in your life, but most casual observers will be happy to give this a miss and wait for the third album.