The new film version of The Stepford Wives fails to address the moral conundrum at its heart: Is artificial pleasure possible? Music fans face that dilemma all the time. Music in general—and pop music in the accelerated media culture of the post-WWII world in particular—is a synthetic art that involves refining and reviving bits of the past in the push toward the future. But what happens when the urge to imitate and build off the past that gives rise to The White Stripes or Jurassic 5 or Elvis Presley gets imitated itself?
Usually, there's a major label waiting. The Strokes' detractors point to its lack of originality, as if the bands it borrowed from didn't also borrow. Yet it only takes a few chords of Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" to show the gulf between The Strokes' sound and what it would sound like if it were twisted and slicked up enough to be played on every radio everywhere.
The problem with taking the high road about drawing on influences is that sometimes the copies make it work. Witness The Killers, a band whose debut album, Hot Fuss, sounds like an attempt to take the aesthetic of New York electroclash and '80s nostalgia acts (with a little bit of Spiritualized-derived gospel action and garage-band flavor) to the top of the charts. No brooding Interpol, The Killers has a guitarist who looks like a younger, cuter Robert Pollard, and his picture is plastered all over Hot Fuss' thick, lyric-free CD booklet. But since the group hails from Las Vegas, its high-gloss approach might be considered a birthright.
Most of Hot Fuss slides by without creating much of a stir, but it's got too many memorable moments to be written off. "Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine" uses guitars, synths, and the growling vocals of Brandon Flowers to build intensity until it's impossible to ignore, while "Andy, You're A Star" reverses the trick, slowing things down until the track sounds like a reasonable facsimile of Echo And The Bunnymen covering a Duran Duran ballad. But the gold standard here is "Somebody Told Me," a shameless, swirling portrait of sexual confusion designed to lodge itself into the part of the brain where songs get stuck. Call The Killers the Stepford Band: It may not be genuine enough to love, but it'll do when the real thing's not around.