Depending on who you ask, The Killers were either the saviours of music, or the musical equivalent of the Antichrist when they hit the popular music charts back in 2003 and 2004. Many folks welcomed their refreshing take on alternative rock, while many naysayers claimed that they were just another group rehashing ideas that had already been established by better groups that came before them. I’m guessing I was in the former group, since I wasn’t aware of this hatred until years down the line.
I remember hearing ‘Somebody Told Me‘ for the first time on a Saturday morning on either Rage or Video Hits, and thinking that it was a pretty nifty, albeit somewhat confusingly written, song. I was slowly exposed to more of the hits from that album, including ‘All These Things That I’ve Done‘, and ‘Smile Like You Mean It‘, all the while thinking they were a pretty decent group who were making pretty decent songs.
By the time their second record Sam’s Town came out in 2006, I felt I’d outgrown them. Sure, their music was still pretty decent, but I couldn’t grasp the reason for their critical praise. I think this may have been the first time I truly understood exactly how it felt to find a band to be overrated. I felt as though they had just begun to make overly ambitious music that never really hit its mark, and I began to write the band off completely by this point. I wasn’t exactly aware of many other hits that the group had from this point, apart from ‘Human‘ back in 2010. (As an aside, I’m glad I’m not the only one who believes that “Are we human, or are we dancer?” is an absolutely ridiculous lyric.
My attitude to The Killers completely changed in 2013 though. The group were announced as one of the headliners for the penultimate Big Day Out festival, and since I didn’t have any other acts to see in between Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I decided to check them out. I now look back on that decision as one of the best I have ever made in regards to seeing bands live.
I went into the band’s set as a casual listener who wasn’t expecting much save for a couple of nostalgic hits, but what I got was one of the greatest live shows I had ever seen. However, it was the third song of their 14 song set that really intrigued me. ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ was a track I had managed to never hear from the group and, in much the same way as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads, is a track about a murder.
The song’s narrator is being questioned by police in regards to a murder, the victim being the titular Jenny, and is proclaiming his innocence. Later songs, such as ‘Midnight Show‘, and ‘Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf‘ tell us that the narrator is indeed the killer, but until then, we’re supposed to believe his story. After all, as he says “There ain’t no motive for this crime, Jenny was a friend of mine.” Why wouldn’t we believe him?
Having drawn inspiration from Morrissey’s ‘Sister I’m A Poet‘, this modern day murder ballad is notable for the fact that it includes the literary trope of the unreliable narrator. It takes us a different way than we’d usually expect in these songs and gives a far different result than we’d expect. And even if you can’t enjoy that aspect of the track, how good is that bassline?