Two Song Tuesday: A Dustland Fairytale and That Wasn’t Me

The Killer’s “A Dustland Fairytale”

The song is lyrically evocative and nearly perfect. The video is a brilliant mix of nostalgia and realism; a short, musical S.E. Hinton story. It takes care not to villainize one character over another; both wrap up their hands as “the Devil” does, both have knives, both are victims of circumstance but make choices that can only end badly. The colors, lens flares at night, focus on identifying “7” tattoo, crossfade from then-reprobate to now-prodigal-son are ubiquitous and obvious, but that’s The Killers’ MO. Go big or go home.

When Hot Fuss was released in 2004, it contained driven anthems, several successful singles, and  the greater part of a murder trilogy. The band itself later noted Hot Fuss was somewhat “cluttered,” but that’s The Killers’s style. To follow up, they announced Sam’s Town was going to be the greatest album of the past twenty years. Then it wasn’t.* Not like that stopped Flowers from saying whatever came to his head about the album or anything else. It’s the brash, unfiltered, cluttered, unrepentantly anthemic Killers that we love; that’s what created the perfect “A Dustland Fairytale” and its album Day & Age, and that’s what comes through in this video.

The major misstep was to intercut Flowers singing in the wilderness. Attempted Christ figure much? This technique is everywhere in music videos – the artist’s face is supposed to attract rabid fans to the video and give an exposure bump to casual watchers who like videos but may not recognize the artist otherwise – but it doesn’t work here. The very scarcity of the footage proves it’s not necessary. It’s not because Flowers is an uncharismatic performer:

In the live performance, he’s enrapturing. Though he shares focus with the musicians and his bandmates, he’s still a focal point – one camera is always on him, and his wardrobe choices are the most colorful things in the whole room. It’s OK for the lead singer to be the focal point of a Live At performance. It’s only distracting when the same lead is singing theatrically in the middle of a desert in the middle of a film about a man’s redemption. Not playing, not quietly contemplating the man’s fate, but making us wonder what part of the song is about him. Contrast that with Brandi Carlile’s “That Wasn’t Me.”

Brandi Carlile’s “That Wasn’t Me.”

Though neither song has an explicit storyline, the  music videos follow similar stories until the very end. Imperfect man trapped by circumstance and society gets out of prison and struggles with life, etc etc. Then one resolves to make amends for what he’s done, and the other realizes paying ‘his dues’ has fit him for nothing else.

The reason Brandi’s piano-playing works where Flowers’s singing didn’t is trifold: the tone is somber, the performance isn’t grandstanding, and it’s beautifully lit. It’s not that Flowers singing in the desert isn’t well-shot, but the color scheme and clothing is too similar to the other modern-day scenes. Is he trying to draw a direct parallel between himself and the prisoner? Too much. I understand “A Dustland Fairytale” lends itself to more outlandish performances because of its music – Brandi’s in-studio music video for “That Wasn’t Me” is more subdued than The Killers’s Abbey Road performance, because that’s the tone of the song – but the filmmaker should know when to let that braggadocio intrude, and when to keep it out. 

Despite all the harping on the tiny difference between videos which sort of crushes one of them for me, let’s not lose sight of the fact Two Song Tuesday is about enjoyment. Please go enjoy the everloving whateveritisyouenjoy out of these videos.

Filmmaker Lesson #1: USE TELEPHONE POLES IN YOUR BACKGROUND

Stray Observations

  • *The only song I regularly listen to from this album is “Bones,” though “Why Do I Keep Counting” was in rotation for a while.
  • Those blinds as prison bars, unf.
  • The cameras for the live “That Wasn’t Me” performance are rather unimaginative. Hello, the piano keys are already exposed. But you couldn’t be distracted from going from face to hands, hands to face. 

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