June 28, 2007

I’ve got some David Bowie CDs, but I’m no David Bowie

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 10:20 pm

I was listening to the radio today, and the Killers’s no-longer-new song “When You Were Young” came on. It’s a pretty good song, probably my fourth-favorite song by them (after the three hits from their first album, which are the only songs of theirs I know). But I realized today that it’s also an important song, for the following legally binding reason (here’s a paragraph break so you know I’m serious):

Once you admit that you like this song, you can never hate on Meat Loaf again, ever. You can make fun of him, sure—how could you not?—just like you can make fun of “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier,” but you can no longer talk about how bad Meat Loaf is or how much you hate his lyrics and his over-the-top delivery. If you do that you must admit, in a notarized document, that “When You Were Young” by the Killers is a bad song for all the reasons you just laid out.

Leaving aside a comparison of the sound (and they sound exactly the same), here’s a side-by-side comparison of the lyrics of this song and Meat Loaf’s 1977 classic “Bat Out of Hell.” If you can convince me that Brandon Flowers’s lyrics are more respectable than Meat Loaf’s, I will tell you that you are wrong and that I am not convinced.

The scene is set:

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
save you from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now … here he comes!

Meat Loaf:
The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling
Way down in the valley tonight
Theres’ a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
And a blade shining oh so bright
There’s evil in the air and there’s thunder in the sky
And a killer’s on the bloodshot streets
And down in the tunnel where the deadly are rising
Oh I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter
He was starting to foam in the heat

The passionate chorus:

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentleman
Like you imagined when you were young
(not that ridiculous until you factor in the way he sings “Jeee-zus”)

Meat Loaf:
Like a bat out of hell
I’ll be gone when the morning comes
When the night is over
Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone, gone, gone

A dramatic view of the uncertain future:

Can we climb this mountain
I don’t know
Higher now than ever before
I know we can make it if we take it slow
Let’s take it easy

Meat Loaf:
I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram
On a silver black phantom bike
When the metal is hot and the engine is hungry
And we’re all about to see the light

The freedom and danger of the road:

We’re burning up the highway skyline
On the back of a hurricane that started turning
When you were young

Meat Loaf:
I can see myself
Tearing up the road
Faster than any other boy has ever gone

A sudden interruption: a soft bridge, backed by keyboards:

They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while

Meat Loaf:
Then I’m dying on the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun
Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike
And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell
And the last thing I see is my heart
Still beating
Breaking out of my body
And flying away
Like a bat out of hell

And close with: the chorus! But louder!

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
I said he doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But more than you’ll ever know

Meat Loaf:
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell

And yes, it’s true that Meat Loaf’s songs are nine to eleven minutes long while the Killers’s songs are only three to five. That’s because Meat Loaf has the balls to be Meat Loaf, whereas the Killers still want to be played on Indie 103.1. The temptation must be excruciating; you know that somewhere there’s a 9:35 version of “All the Things That I’ve Done,” contractually forbidden to ever see the light of day. Every night, Brandon Flowers plays it and lets it lull him to sleep, as he lies under his dim blacklight wearing his sheer silver pajamas.



  1. Though I think Bruce Springsteen is the act that Flowers is aping the most, here. “The highway skyline”? The climactic guitar/keyboard riff right before the “devil’s water” bit is stolen straight up from Born to Run. Oy! I love it, though, for it’s naive earnestness. And have you seen him with his little mustache? PURE ABSURDITY.

    Comment by drew — June 29, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

  2. Drew, I think that’s a good point, especially since Meat Loaf was aping Springsteen, too (Nick Hornby on “Thunder Road”: “This four and three-quarter minutes provided Jim Steinman and Meatloaf (sic) with a whole career”). I think the Killers’s tendency towards epic language—mountains, hurricanes, Jesus, the devil—puts them more in the Meat Loaf camp than the Springsteen one, but it’s a tough call.

    Comment by tomemos — July 1, 2007 @ 10:48 am

  3. OK, I see where you’re going, and as a fan of Meat Loaf’s acting (Fight Club), I’m not adverse to giving him some good press.


    First of all, the difference between long songs and short songs is not artistic integrity vs. commercialism. The Killers did it tighter.

    Also, Flowers is writing in the second person; if he’s a hero, it’s at least a compassionate heroism. Whereas Meat Loaf is pure Valhalla swagger.

    Although I don’t think Flowers is actually smart enough to understand what he channels, he nonetheless does manage to be really creepy. The reference to a hurricane showed up right after Katrina, and implies that the young girl’s romanticism is tied to America’s romanticism and inability to understand historical cause and effect. It’s not just epic; as with the singles from the first album, it’s obscurely guilty and accusatory.

    Finally, there’s more uncertainty and pain in the Killers song. Look at that final pair; the ambiguities of the Killers lines aren’t Shakespeare, but they’re something. (“But more than you’ll ever know…” suggests that there might be a connection between Jesus and the Oatesian seducer.) Whereas Meat Loaf, for all his unbridled enthusiasm, is just working a cliche like a nine to five.

    Comment by Joseph Kugelmass — July 1, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

  4. Joe, I agree with you in a couple of places, and I have to admit that some of the entry was rhetoric. This is not a “just kidding!”, I meant what I said, but I exaggerated the similarity in a few places. And the part about Meat Loaf having the guts to make the song ten minutes was sheer bluff; I have never seen the need for ML to do the bridge twice, in any of his songs. I also agree that the Killers’s chorus and closing are more effective than ML since they’re about a real feeling, rather than a feeling that a guy in a rock song should have.

    Still, I see the songs as very similar, and like them equally well (actually, edge to Meat Loaf for delivery and instrumentation), especially since I find the imagery in “Bat Out of Hell” much more effective than “When You Were Young,” the central cliche of the former song aside. The Killers’s lyrics strike me as simply a parody of a parody, especially the mountain line. Plus, I don’t think I agree with you that Flowers achieves a mysterious effect. In particular, I don’t see the hurricane/Katrina thing. When analyzing a work, I generally feel like if we see a connection it’s probably there, but in this case I just don’t see anything else to suggest that America in general, or a historical (in addition to a personal) sense of cause is being evoked. After all, what does “We’re burning up the highway skyline” mean in the context of that disaster? Given the surrounding lyrics, the “back of [the] hurricane” (the back?) seems to me only like a powerful thing that occurs to Flowers, like the high mountain.

    Comment by tomemos — July 1, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

  5. […] to the Killers, probably because I was turning tomemos’s post over in my head. Remembered that I want to write a post comparing “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” to […]

    Pingback by Last Post On The Bugle « The Kugelmass Episodes — July 2, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  6. This post made me laugh at loud, and cringe a little bit too (I think I bought the cd in the first week it was out)!

    Comment by clarity — July 13, 2007 @ 2:10 am

  7. now I will forever link it to Meat Loaf and no longer be able to taunt my friend Meghan in the same way about her love of the ML.

    Comment by Tia — July 13, 2007 @ 2:40 am

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