Review of The Desired Effect Album by Brandon Flowers

The maxim about solo records here at Contact Towers never lets us down: the reverse of Jim Steinman's compromise epic, we always find that two out of three are bad, an equation you can hang your hat on at our expense with any bookie you like, with of course an honourable nod of exception to the likes of Damon Albarn and Thom Yorke.

Brandon Flowers The Desired Effect Album

Brandon Flowers couldn't be any more solo at the moment it seems. Three years since The Killers were in meaningful action (a couple of upcoming US festival dates don't feel like hard currency), the guy who it was once written has nearly all of their creativity resting on his skinny shoulders is footloose and fancy free to follow up 2010's 'Flamingo', released during the group's original hiatus. A band who've gradually slipped into rock 'n' roll cliché fulfilment - from not speaking to each other to conversely making unspeakable albums like the 'Day & Age' - being the man who writes the songs that make their whole world sing doesn't seem to faze Flowers; on the contrary 'The Desired Effect' is written in bolder, more flamboyant strokes than its predecessor.

He remains, though, something of an enigma; the first Killers album borrowed so heavily from the British indie rock of his youth it felt like an homage, but here whilst a similar vintage is being uncorked era-wise, the principle is more home grown. This time our hero is channelling the bandana-clad, post-blue collar spritz of mid-eighties Springsteen, retranslating its hinky, oil rag etiquette for the social media age. This doesn't mean he spends 'The Desired Effect' awkwardly talking about killing the yellow man, but otherwise he's at pains to underline that his 21st century Babylon is no place for quitters, especially in the words of 'Between Me And You', a song staged in a place where true love is little more than a blood sacrifice to the demands of the American way.

The Boss' gift in that period was taking complicated emotional portraits and setting them to  evocatively simple music; Flowers comes, however, from Las Vegas not New Jersey, a city where hope and heartbreak are mere commodities, a place full of loveable last throwers of the dice. This means that opener 'Dreams Come True' is bathed in the neon half-light of the hotel lounge as opposed to a naked bulb, its huge brass, harmonies and chorus all jockeying for pride of place in producer Ariel Rechtshaid's (Haim, Charlie XCX, Vampire Weekend) barnstorming orchestration. Gloriously OTT if a little thin on grain, it's the sort of nostalgic chutzpah that the singer loves, a dedication to the past that runs through all his finest work, of which this rhetorical blast is undoubtedly now a part.

We've been here before, of course, most obviously on the lipstick Americana of The Killer's 'Sam's Town', but here the Demi-monde flotsam are less monochrome: on 'Can't Deny My Love' and 'Still Want You' seduction is the titular effect, whilst the toothsome throwaway pop-rock of 'Untangled Love' is a relic not short of period bombast. As ever, Flowers tap dances along the line between kitsch and sincerity - one which even he sometimes seems to be unable to locate. When he slips, the result is 'Digging Up The Heart', a sort of homage to the lachrymose and bruised Tom Petty without any of its inspiration's bruised dignity.

This kind of misdirection, however, is all part of an energy which rarely allows us to be angry with those cheekbones for very long, and is as much a defining quality of Flowers' music as the vulnerable streak which he's been so perfectly emoting since 'Mr. Brightside'. Here the final word in doe-eyed perfection is 'I Can Change', a song which so expertly integrates Bronski Beat's little outsider classic 'Smalltown Boy' that its message of shelter and desire reads like complete salvation.

This is the Brandon Flowers fans love, as opposed to the sometimes complicated, sometimes conflicted one we think we know. 'The Desired Effect' goes a stage further in proving that he has a life well beyond the band he made great: if only he could iron out their collective weaknesses from his own music, work of stellar proportions would surely appear.


Andy Peterson

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