Although it will only earn me the same pathetic stares people reserve for numerologists who count too many bubbles in the wine, I have an obligation to point this out. Two new bands at equal strength on the same bill is reason enough to reach for palpitation medicine. But two new bands at equal strength on the same bill that begin with the letter K? Somebody dig up Jack Palance because this is gonna rip Mr. Ripley a new one. Believe it or not, there have never ever been two K-bands in the top 10 at the same time.
Out of deference to the KKK, there weren’t any K-bands at all until those striped shirt subversives the Kingston Trio showed up with a string of collegiate hits that ended right about the time those filthy frat boys the Kingsmen became big men on campus. And the Kingsmen yelped a big "me gotta go now" once the "Louie Louie"-covering Kinks came stateside, acting like they invented the letter k with their klever press kommuniques which konstantly misused that konsonant throughout their konkwest kampaign. Later, The Greg Kihn Band would reach for similar heights of irritation by cramming their leader’s last name into every goddamned album title: Next of KIHN, KIHNspiracy, RocKIHN Roll, KIHNtagious, Country BumKIHN, You’re a FucKIHN Asshole, oh the list went on and on, with savvy Greg holding DisKIHNtinued in check for the day fans realized that no ideas better than covering "KIHN-tucky Woman" lay ahead.
Because of this unspoken one K-band at a time restriction, there were a heckuva lotta one-hit wonders in that K-column: The Korgis, Krokus, Kix, King Harvest, Kajagoogoo, Klymaxx, Klatuu, The Knickerbockers, Kissing the Pink, The KLF, the Klowns and the Klique, all waiting for more consistent K-bands like Kansas or Kool and the Gang to look the other way for a couple of weeks.
Except for the summer of ’79, when Kiss and the Kinks went head to head with their disco sellout singles and were knuked by the Knack, there hasn’t been as much K-motion as this Killers vs. Keane match-up. Both deserve all the kudos they get, but only one can reign supreme tonight. So let’s compare fight cards and decide for ourselves.
NAME: The Killers
TRUNK COLORS: Hot Fuss Fuchsia, thanks for asking.
HOMETOWN: Las Vegas, Nevada. Because nothing notable in the way of rock has come out of Vegas besides Toni Basil and Wayne Newton’s hair lacquer, Sin City’s artificiality is a factor, which the band’s detractors might seek to exploit. A city that would build a replica of King Farouk’s burial tomb and the Eiffel Tower could give two shiny shits for indie cred — they probably would erect a life-scale counterfeit of New Order if the chamber of commerce felt it would attract enough gloomy Gusses to craps tables.
AGE: This band is clearly weaned on ’80’s music, an undeniable advantage since the nostalgia demographic has now officially advanced away from the ’70s, leaving The Strokes and their Lou Reed-through-an-apartment-intercom fascination suddenly 10 years behind the times. The Killers have not only secured the desired twenty-to-thirtysomethings who remember their diapers being changed to OMD, but they also appeal to teens and tweenies whose synthesizer nostalgia has been restricted to old Nokia ring tones.
HEIGHT: They’ve gone top five in Britain and Top 20 in America with “Somebody Told Me.” And they’ll live forever in syndication reruns of The O.C. So unless Keane gets booked on a very special Seventh Heaven but pronto, they’ll never attain this level of primetime hubris.
WEIGHT: In keeping with their life-taking name, the band has a trilogy of murder ballads but actually left one of them off their Hot Fuss album because that would mean losing their lightweight classification. And then, of course, they’d have to fight Nick Cave.
REACH: The “Murder Trilogy” leaves a taste of “future concept album” in the mouth. If they remain true to the Duran Duran comparisons, singer Brandon Flowers will marry a supermodel, the band members will flake off one by one, only to reunite, and if we’re lucky, once again write dumb Simon LeBon lines like “Shake up the picture, the lizard mixture, with your dance on the eventide.” Personally, I don’t hear the Duran influence so much as the Pet Shop Boys. It’s impossible to sing “Somebody told me that you had a boyfriend” and not want to cap it off with, “Let’s make lots of money.”
TRUNK COLORS: Understated black and white.
HOMETOWN: Battle, East Sussex, England. Hmmm, this being British thing can really be used as an advantage against the Killers, wrongly perceived as Brits because of the reams of hype coming over from across the water hailing “Mr. Brightside” as the best-ever single since forgetting that the NME already said that about Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes.
AGE: Decidedly new age, sir, a piano-driven thing of beauty that has no use for handclaps, guitar solos or even guitars. A friend overhearing my copy of Hopes and Dreams said it sounded like Coldplay on Zoloft. But I’m sure he meant it in the nicest possible way.
HEIGHT: Two top-five singles in their homeland, a top-50 single in the United States. Perhaps the greatest distinction Keane could claim is that their album prevented Morrissey’s You are the Quarry from entering the UK charts at No. 1, prompting Moz to close his performance at the Meltdown Festival with a request that anyone with the Keane surname must “leave the building at once.”
WEIGHT: Keane is keen on pointing out it has no guitars in its sound, which ain’t nothing new to old-timers who remember the heavy piano and drum high jinks of Lee Michaels and Frosty. While appearing on SNL, Keane pushed the “no bass” envelope one further than bands like the White Stripes by actually employing a bassist who was sitting down in the dark. Isn’t there something in the language of the Geneva Convention that prevents this sort of treatment of bassists?
REACH: When British pop bands borrow from their own, they’re carrying on a tradition. When Americans like the Killers nick the Brits, they’re treated like, well, the Knack. This is most unfair since the Killers rock out gamely and, as you well know, hip hop has relegated rock to the last six selections on most Now That’s What I Call Music compilations, along with whatever country quota they’re obliged to include. It’s like rap’s revenge for making Rosa Parks sit at the back of the bus.
Keane doesn’t rock out at all. One listen to 2004’s Hopes and Fears and you’ll think you’ve died and joined the Ballad of the Month Club.
All right you say, but what about all those Coldplay comparisons?
Well, all I can say is if Keane times their releases, they can be the stopgap between Coldplay albums the way the Outfield was for the Police and John Cafferty was for Bruce fans. In case you’ve forgotten, everyone gravitated to Coldplay chiefly because they thought Chris Martin and company were going to take up the “next Bread” mantle abandoned by Radiohead. Keane not only has what it takes to be the “next Bread,” but by royal and rhyming rights they could be the next Queen. If you drained Freddie Mercury’s piano heartbreakers of all their snuff-box irony, you might have something resemblin’ Keane. Plus Keane’s no-guitars edict is the Bizarro-world mirror image of Queen’s “no synthesizers” claim, when Queen’s resident guitar wizard Brian May would put his six-string through any torture device to make it sound like a kazoo, a Ford Model T, a synthesizer, an oven timer, anything but a geetar. So if Keane keeps good on its claim, expect to see pianos pounded into the ground until they twang like Duane Eddy.
Keane and the Killers play the 89X Birthday Bash on Monday, May 30, at the Fox Theatre (2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-6611) with Brendan Benson, Louis XIV and many others. Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]