Album: Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect
By Dan Whiteley
Released 18th May
Ever since The Killers swapped new wave for fist-pumping stadium anthems on their second album Sam’s Town, much of Brandon Flowers’ output has seen him trying to meld his love for kitschy synthpop with Springsteen-influenced heartland rock to varying degrees (and, arguably, mixed results). With his ludicrously successful day job on hold, however – the rest of the band reportedly wanted a break from their rigorous schedule – Flowers was free to go full pop on his second solo outing, The Desired Effect, an album so indebted to the 80s it could double as a soundtrack to a lost John Hughes movie. And by swapping the biker jacket for a Miami Vice blazer and the desert landscapes for neon lights, he’s also come up with one of his funnest and most enjoyable sets of songs to date.
The record begins in familiar territory with the rousing ‘Dreams Come True’, featuring a now-standard Born To Run, we’ll-get-out-of-here-someday average Joe narrative (“punch the clock on the nightstand”, he sings, “close your eyes waiting for the sandman”) complete with E Street Band brass section, showing the ghost of Bruce is still alive, if a little buried in the mix this time round. The pace soon alters on lead single ‘Can’t Deny My Love’, though – the track is filled with nervous energy, with galloping rhythms, slap bass flourishes, hazy synths and a Haim-esque chorus courtesy of producer Ariel Rechtshaid – think ‘Running Up That Hill’, replacing Kate Bush’s ghostly yelp with Flowers’ trademark bellow.
The rest of the album shows Flowers’ knack for pop hooks and slick, vintage-sounding instrumentation; ‘Lonely Town’, which sounds like an offcut from The Killers’ most playful record Day & Age, is full-on new wave, with layers of old school synths and a euphoric chorus that hides its sinister, stalkerish lyrics, whilst ‘Untangled Love’ is pure drive-time Americana. Other highlights include the defiant pep-talk of ‘Never Get You Right’, and the affecting ‘Between Me and You’, a vulnerable lament on compromise and the harsh realities of adulthood, recalling The 59 Sound-era Gaslight Anthem or Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ with its rockabilly beat, sparse backing track and wistful melody.
On his solo debut, 2010’s sometimes bland and lukewarmly received Flamingo, it was readily apparent that apart from a couple of highlights (the majestic ‘Only the Young’ and Spanish-tinted ‘Magdalena’) Flowers was holding back, scared to include any future would-be Killers hits in his side project. His decision to go all-in this time, then, was a wise one, and means the album more than holds its own against any of his main band’s releases.
As ever, one of his most endearing qualities is that Flowers has no concept of the overblown, almost cartoonish quality of his writing, which is often plays to his advantage; his lyrics and arrangements verge on clichéd at times, but the conviction in his delivery and his absolute belief in the material manages to carry the songs regardless. Striking just right balance between substance and throwaway appeal, The Desired Effect is pop music done right, and could mark the beginning of his transition from indie rock frontman to consummate pop star.