Following the success of Gasoline, Key has returned almost six months later with a reissue, Killer. The title track of the same name is described as being the closing chapter of his retro horror trilogy, following “Bad Love” and “Gasoline”. Unfortunately, while the prior tracks thrived in Key’s penchant for bombast and theatre, “Killer” falls flat as Key attempts a role that is outside his range.
The retro aspect is abundantly clear from the first note: “Killer” is another 80s synth throwback. Key is going back to a sound and style that he has mastered, as well as one that suits his larger than life stage persona. Yet, he does not take from the broad sounds and trends of the 80s, but has lasered in on the very specific niche of early mid-80s horror pop. The tones of the synths, the chord progressions, Key’s delivery shifting from emotionally flat to raging; it all melds together for a track that would slot in perfectly between Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” and Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”, with a little “Blinding Lights” thrown in for some modern nihilistic flair.
That said, there is one significant difference between “Killer” and its companions and inspirations: Key is no longer the victim of the terror, but the inflictor. He is the one who knocks, he is the thing going bump in the night, and after being on the wrong end of a cruel breakup, Key is out for vengeance. The only problem is that I don’t buy it. At all.
Part of this is down to the production. There’s a reason why most songs of this type are about being stalked. The highly processed nature of the auditory aesthetic, combined with the vocal runs putting emphasis on the upper registers, make the audience feel unsettled, uneasy, and acutely aware of the manufactured aspect of the song. It feeds very well into a sense of paranoia and doubt, but doesn’t really mesh with a concrete, objective threat.
The other issue, sadly, is Key himself. He just cannot sell being a vicious, dangerous killer. His performance here is the embodiment of the idea that when a guy says he’s an alpha, you know he’s a beta. Make no mistake, Key is trying his best to sound like an unhinged man right on the edge of snapping and turning lethal, but bless his heart, it does not come off that way. And the harder he tries, the more he seems like a pathetic guy drinking too much and whining about his ex while his buddies try and fail to get him to let go. Honestly, if not for the MV, it would have been easy to assume that was the goal.
The MV for “Killer” is clearly attempting to portray Key as a man at the end of his tether, one bad day from becoming his most lethal self. The color palette is heavy on the black, white, and red, keeping Key saturated in dark, dramatic, and dangerous colors. The costuming backs the sense of foreboding, keeping the performers in leather and diamonds to connote vigilantism, harsh edges, and a disconnect from the everyday mindset. Add in the shots of Key running down his ex in attempted vehicular homicide, and the point is clear: Key is a killer.
However, like the song itself, the MV just does not work. There are too many moments where the atmosphere is broken and the ludicrousness shines through. Most notably is when the dark and menacing mise-en-scene is splintered by Key ending up in front of the flag of the Ivory Coast. One can only assume a mistake was made with the chroma-key. Then there’s the abrupt shift from gothic luxury to 80s street fashion, both denim and punk, and the use of an abandoned tunnel for a major set piece over the dramatic black and red backdrops. There’s also Key himself. He does not come across as physically threatening. Sinister, manipulative, and backstabbing, sure. But not someone likely to cause immediate harm, which undercuts the entire track.
Key’s greatest strength has always been his ability to perform, and he has neve shied away from attempting to expand his range rather than remaining static. Alas, as “Killer” shows, even the best performers have limits; roles they cannot sell no matter how hard they try. And for Key, that includes a killer.