Record Time is a recurring feature written by Flip Rushmore's Alex Smith. Comment with your favorite memories of Hot Fuss at the bottom of the story, and check out Flip Rushmore's latest release on Spotify.
In music, the early bird does not usually get the worm.
A scene takes time to manifest itself in the public consciousness, and the bands making the best music, in, say, 2001, are not the bands who are leading the charge in, say, 2004. That’s a lifetime for a certain “sound,” and The Killers' Hot Fuss is the natural grandchild or great-grandchild—with an extra touch of flamboyance from three time zones away—of The Strokes’ Is This It. The first demo of “Mr. Brightside” might as well have been a B-side from Room on Fire.
The Killers mapped out their own sound before their debut dropped, but without direction from New York City, they would’ve been lost. Lead singer Brandon Flowers told NME in 2012 that he was "depressed" upon hearing Is This It for the first time, and The Killers immediately scrapped every song they were working on (besides "Mr. Brightside"—fair).
When it finally arrived, Hot Fuss shot into pop radio in a way that few Strokes disciples had. We were still in the midst of “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and Jet’s controversial 15 minutes of fame, but The Killers were a different animal. When “Somebody Told Me” hit KDWB in Minneapolis, I wasn’t quite sure what I was hearing, but the sixth-grade version of myself found it mesmerizing (a “boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend?”). When The Strokes heard it, they were unimpressed—and probably more than a little jealous of the attention. The next spring, “Mr. Brightside” was proof that Flowers and his Vegas band were going to make America pay them some respect (they were, and still are, gigantic stars in the United Kingdom; in fact, “Mr. Brightside” has spent at least some time on the British Top 100 chart in every year for the past 17 years).
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better first five tracks on a debut album. “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine,” “Mr. Brightside,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “Somebody Told Me,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” would make a masterpiece of an EP. The rest of it … you can take or leave. I like “Andy, You’re a Star,” but I imagine that’s where plenty of people hit pause. I don’t have any particularly warm feelings toward the back half of the record. “Change Your Mind” is a fine Smiths-inspired song (oddly, it was left off the UK version in lieu of “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll,” a similarly fine song I didn’t discover until a friend mentioned it last year). But there’s something about the cohesiveness of the first half that makes Hot Fuss a generational triumph. It’s unique. It’s confident. It’s cathartic. And in the mid-2000s, it boldly carved out a niche spot of pop radio that helped rock 'n' roll™ maintain a mainstream presence.
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