The Killers’ ‘Sam’s Town’ is still a perfect encapsulation of small-town America

sam's town

“We hope you enjoy your stay
It’s good to have you with us
Even if it’s just for the day.”

I grew up in a town in Southwest Michigan. If you conjure up an image of what you think a small town is, my hometown is it. It’s bigger than some, smaller than most, and isn’t going to expand anytime soon. The main street is lined with more antique stores than one would think necessary, the local diner might hold 100 people if they all sucked in their guts, and the decades-old movie theater only has two screens. The outskirts of town sit on the intersection of two major interstates, so we get all of the fast food and gas stations that come with a bigger city without any of the fun things to do. When I was in high school, the common wisdom was that you had two options when it came to fun: Play frisbee or smoke weed. Many chose both, depending on the day. It’s the kind of town where by the time you come home from college after your first year away, some of the people you went to high school with are already married with kids, having never made it out. But it’s also the kind of town where you find a friend everywhere you go, where you know where and how to order your favorite meal so it’s just right. It’s the type of hometown that confounds and comforts, frustrates and embraces. You can travel thousands of miles and years away, and it never leaves you and it never changes. It’s always there with you, and it’s always waiting for you. It’s a type of town you find all across America, and it’s the type of town that Sam’s Town is about. Sam’s Town was relevant when it came out 10 years ago, and it still speaks to me today.

Sam’s Town is the Killers’ best album, even though it doesn’t contain their best song (“Mr. Brightside” is the GOAT and you can fight me if you don’t think so). The opening and titular track is such a great way to open the album, as its a microcosm of what the album is about and the emotions it contains. There are memories, both happy and sad, but also a sense of resentment. Brandon Flowers has always been an excellent storyteller, and his voice does wonders on this album. When he sings, “And I’m sick of all my judges, they’re so scared of letting me shine,” you can hear the anger, but there’s also a deep hurt underneath it; the hurt of people you know not believing that you’ll escape where you were born.

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And before we get to some of the deeper cuts of the album, let’s not pretend that every single from the album isn’t a jam. “When You Were Young” should still be in your playlist rotation, with Dave Keuning laying down that instantly recognizable riff and Flowers crooning about small-town romance deftly mixed with the religious overtones that so often show up in the Killers’ work. “Bones” is a punchy, cynical take on young love with a truly great horn section. (Aside: This is a good a place to remember Tommy Marth, who played saxophone on the album and tragically took his own life in 2012. He was a hell of a musician and he is still sorely missed). The synthetic hum and drum kick that backs “Read My Mind” still holds up, as does the message of trying desperately to hold yourself together when there’s physically nowhere to go after a breakup—a conundrum that’s very real when you’re in high school and can’t escape seeing your exes every day. Finally there’s Flowers taking over bass duties from Mark Stoermer for the pop-rock excellence of “For Reasons Unknown.”

Just those singles alone showcase the broad range of emotions and small-town experiences Sam’s Town covers. The whole album is full of those tracks; the creepy, slithering “Uncle Jonny” specifically refers to Flowers’ actual drug-addicted uncle, but can easily relate to many listeners as the kind of scandal that can rock a community, the kind of scandal that everyone talks about with hushed tones; the heartbreaking and angelic “Why Do I Keep Counting?” that finds Flowers pondering if anything is even worth it, and “Bling (Confessions Of A King)” about picking yourself up from the absolute bottom, a task that can be even harder when you feel that you’re trapped in your hometown.

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It’s dark and serious, because sometimes that’s what life is—it’s not perfect, and it can be awfully trying—but there are bright spots in Sam’s Town, as there are bright spots in your memories of your own hometown. “This river is wild,” as Flowers sings on the track of the same name, and living life can bring you new moments of joy and perspective on your past experiences. As the powerful climax of “Bling” tells us, we’re going to make it, and we’re going to be all right. That means being in a better place, whether that’s a different city or the one you grew up in, and being at peace with your history. “Enterlude” and “Exitlude” have it right: It never hurts to revisit your hometown, both physically and in your memories.

Looking back at my own childhood, was it boring as hell sometimes? You know it. Was it always easy? Of course not. Was it still pretty great? Definitely. Would I change where I’m from if I could? Not a chance. This is what the Killers so beautifully and accurately expressed on Sam’s Town, and what makes it an album that holds up so well.

“We hope you enjoyed your stay
It’s good to have you with us
Even if it’s just for the day.
Outside the sun is shining
It feels like heaven ain’t far away.”

The Killers’ second studio album, ‘Sam’s Town,’ was released on this day in 2006.