Single Review: Killers “Smile Like You Mean It”

Smile Like You Mean It
Album: Hot Fuss
Year: 2005

Brandon Flowers is disllusioned over the changes and regrets in his adult life in the jaded “Smile Like You Mean It.”

Sophiscated guitar and indifferent synthesizers open the single. Flowers, with the guitar melody accompanying him, gives cynical advice to an adolescent boy. He tells the boy to hide his disappointments and pretend it doesn’t bother him. He advises him to do it now while he can. “Eventually,” he says to the boy, “you’ll grow up and not be as joyful as you are now.” And his young girl friend will be wondering how they became what they were. The boy will be answer to the question. (“Save some face, you know you’ve only got one/Change your ways while you’re young/Boy, one day you’ll be a man/Oh girl, he’ll help you understand.”)

In the chorus, his general advice is to fake the happiness even though it’s not heartfelt. (“Smile like you mean it/Smile like you mean it.”) Passive synthesizers make a noteworthy appearance.

When he lived at home, he would hang out with his friend and watch the sunsets. They would talk about everything: what they aspired to be, how they saw themselves in five years, etc. However, he does not speak with any of those people anymore. They lost touch, despite half-hearted efforts to do so. He finds his dreams are only small, meaningless goals. They are not larger-than-life or ambitious. If he can make it through the day, he achieved a ‘dream.’ (“Looking back at sunsets on the Eastside/We lost track of the time/Dreams aren’t what they used to be/Some things slide by so carelessly.”)

A musing but questioning guitar leads into a segue into the third verse.

While eating dinner at a restraraunt, an old friend (who he would watch the sunsets with) sees him and wants to catch up. A drive past his childhood home reveals a new family playing checkers on the porch. He remembers a former girlfriend and thinks of what her life must be like. (“And someone is calling my name/From the back of the restaurant/And someone is playing a game/In the house that I grew up in/And someone will drive her around/Down the same streets that I did/On the same streets that I did.”)

The phrase “Smile Like You Mean It” is repeated two extra times. Flowers lets out downhearted “oh no’s” to end the single. His life is wretched and he hates who he became.

The bitterness in “Smile Like You Mean It” is off-putting. However, that’s the point. Flowers is a shell of his former self. In the beginning, he sees young people who remind him of himself. He discourages from their dreams and life, telling them it’s nothing short of hell. The only he learned to get through life was to pretend he was enjoying it. Even though he misses the way things and he used to be.

The Killers are one of the great new bands to emerge in a long time. They write descriptive, resonating pop songs with substance. With every single, there is emotion buried underneath emotion. Like “Somebody Told Me” (a recommended listen) and “Mr. Brightside” it takes several listens to find out what’s really going on.

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