NEW YORK — The Killers are back, and this time they've brought the weird.
The Las Vegas quartet's third studio album "Day & Age" sees them tapping into a little of their hometown's oddness in both new image and sound.
They break out steel drums, harpsichords and horns. They sing about alien abduction. Their new stage outfits feature animal prints and plumage.
"The word 'playful' keeps coming up," says Brandon Flowers, the singer and keyboardist. "We just really had fun. And I think it shows in the album."
It's a gaudy new direction for the synth-rock group that emerged in 2004 with the singles-driven "Hot Fuss" and disappointed some when they went to cowboy country with the follow-up, "Sam's Town."
Flowers — along with guitarist Dave Keuning, bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci — say the new album is their most pop-y and also most experimental.
"You can have both, right?" asks the 27-year-old, baby-faced Flowers during a recent interview alongside Keuning, the long-haired, 32-year-old yin to his bandmate's yang.
The new 10-song CD has stuff you can dance to — the Tears for Fears-like "The World We Live In" and the funky "Joy Ride" — straight-ahead pop with "Losing Touch" and rock opera on "Goodnight, Travel Well."
"The pop instinct is definitely glowing right now for us. It's like pulsing," says Flowers.
"It's radiating," Keuning agrees.
Speaking of glowing, what's up with the song "Spaceman"? In it, Flowers sings about aliens abducting him from his bed, cutting him open and leaving "a strange impression in my head."
"I was taken," says Flowers, trying to be completely serious until he cracks up. "I can laugh about it now. It was kind of cathartic to sing about it."
"I also was taken," Keuning says. "Hours of my life are missing."
Their goofiness bleeds into the first single, "Human," in which Flowers asks "Are we human/Or are we dancer?" The song was inspired by a comment Hunter S. Thompson made about how America was raising a generation of dancers.
Then there's the outfits: The Wyatt Earp mustaches from their last album are gone. But they haven't returned to the pastels, suits and eyeliner of their debut.
"There are a lot of tiger prints. And feathers," says Flowers. "There's all kinds of things going on. It took 12 millions records sold to break out the feathers. I don't know why."
The Killers were born when Flowers came across Keuning's classified ad seeking bandmates. It mentioned his love for the British group Oasis.
The band took it's name from a New Order video and banged out hits like "Mr. Brightside," "Somebody Told Me" and "All These Things That I've Done," selling out stadiums and snagging Grammy nominations.
But all the fuss, they insist, hasn't changed them. They recall their pre-fame lives — Keuning worked at a Banana Republic and Flowers was a hotel bellhop.
"I don't feel different," says Flowers.
"I can still remember asking my boss for Friday off because we were playing at a bar. It's the same. It's just the bar is bigger."