It’s a hard-nosed blues-funk vamp about getting what’s coming to you, some long-overdue deliverance soundtracked by a beat that thumps like a brick tumbling around in a clothes dryer.
“Daddy, did you think you could outrun the Holy Ghost?” Brandon Flowers sings, sounding like flared nostrils incarnate on “The Calling,” one of two biblical bookends on The Killers’ latest record, “Wonderful Wonderful.”
Sonically, thematically, it’s both fresh and vaguely familiar, which makes it an apt entry point for an album that has few direct parallels in The Killers’ discography and yet feels like a Killers record despite — or maybe because of — its bombastic breadth.
“The Calling,” which the band has been leading its encore with at recent shows, was inspired by a conversation that Flowers and bass player Mark Stoermer had in the studio one day.
“I said something about light, and he had just been looking at a painting by Caravaggio called ‘The Calling of Saint Matthew,’ ” where Jesus is pointing at Matthew and there’s a light shining on him,” Flowers recalls. “We looked at that picture and we wrote that song around it.”
The tune opens with the reading of a passage from Matthew 9:10, recited by Killers fan Woody Harrelson — “He just sounds a lot cooler reading these passages out of the New Testament than any of us did,” Flowers notes — where Jesus explains why he’d dine with a tax collector like Matthew and invite him to be a follower.
It could be seen as a metaphor for the album: “Wonderful Wonderful” is all about widening the flock while remaining true to the faithful, new and old converts co-mingling beneath an increasingly bigger tent.
“The Calling” is the second to last song on “Wonderful Wonderful,” forming a thematic link with the album-opening title track, where Flowers delivers the chorus as if he were the voice of God, 16th-century English and all.
“I read the Bible and I’m a Mormon — we’ve got the Book of Mormon — and in my experience, when God speaks, that’s the language he uses,” Flowers explains. “It’s thrown a lot of people for a loop.”
Getting thrown for a loop is a big part of the appeal of “Wonderful Wonderful,” its adventurous tone set by first single “The Man,” whose winkingly cocksure strut is a nod to a young man’s naive conception of masculinity.
The song came dead last in the writing process for the new record.
“It was a surprise — but a welcome surprise,” Flowers says. “It’s a more grown-up record, and that was a conscious decision, but we ended up stumbling into this song at the end and it brought a little bit of levity to the record.”
Flowers credits producer Jacknife Lee, in part, for the more experimental edge of the record, which retains the surging keys-and-guitars-driven anthems (See: “Run for Cover”) but balances them with some of the band’s most spare and beatific moments (“Some Kind of Love”) and maybe Flowers’ most confessional lyrics (“Rut”).
“He’s very playful in the studio and he’s a real creative producer,” Flowers says of the Irish Lee, who’s worked with the likes of U2, Neil Diamond, Silversun Pickups, Taylor Swift and dozens more. “He said, ‘Let’s shock ourselves. Let’s be kind of reckless.’ And I think that mentality helped out, especially with songs like ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ and ‘The Man,’ which are at complete different ends of the spectrum, but they both somehow work on this record.”
Work they have: “Wonderful Wonderful” is the band’s first record to top the Billboard 200 album chart.
As The Killers have returned to the road to support the album — albeit without Stoermer and guitarist Dave Keuning, who are sitting out this touring cycle — they’ve become an increasingly rare breed: a rock and roll band that can still fill arenas. When you think of the bands able to play 10,000-plus capacity venues, few of them are rock acts, and fewer still debuted this century, as The Killers did with 2004’s “Hot Fuss.”
Last (rock) band standing?
2017 marked the first year that hip-hop supplanted rock and roll as the most popular form of music, with eight of the top 10 most consumed artists all rap-based.
“It’s a little scary out there,” the 36-year-old Flowers acknowledges.
How have The Killers remained relevant as a rock and roll band, then?
By rethinking what it means to be a rock and roll band.
“We’ve definitely got one foot in the fundamental, rock and roll, arena band world, but then I also believe that we have a foot in the future,” he says. “I think we’re combining these two worlds and people seem to appreciate it.
“There are tried-and-true things about showmanship and about performance that I’m a student of, and we apply those. And then we’re also aware of what’s going on, and we’re trying to move forward,” he adds. “Having a little dash of Las Vegas on top of that never hurt anybody, either.”
Who: The Killers
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: MGM Grand Garden, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: Sold out (866-799-7711)
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.