Brandon Flowers and Kanye West have more in common than The Killers frontman may realize. While diametrically opposed musically, both suffer from a slight case of diarrhea of the mouth. For every awards show outburst on West’s part, Flowers manages to stick his foot in his yapper at the onset of a new release.
Before The Killers put out 2006’s Sam’s Town, he proclaimed it’d be “one of the best albums of the last 20 years.” (Critics definitely didn’t agree.) He claimed the Las Vegas-based band could be bigger than U2 when Day & Age came out in 2008. (The jury is still out on that one.) More recently, he’s let a couple of doozies rip in the weeks leading up to the unveiling of his second solo album, The Desired Effect. First, he had to answer to a quote from almost a decade ago about West making him “ill.” (He stands by that comment, coyly telling Rolling Stone his stance on West was “a little bit ahead of my time.”) Then, he entered the fray over the “Blurred Lines” copyright trial, venting his frustration to NME: “I’m so sick of hearing people steal … [There] are so many bands who should get sued.” (But when he out-Springsteens the Boss, is it just flattery?)
Someone needs to cross-stitch an adorable elephant sitting at a computer with the phrase “The Internet Never Forgets” across the top and frame it for the 33-year-old. True to form, Flowers makes promises he can’t deliver on with The Desired Effect. Convinced that every one of the album’s 10 tracks could be a single, he actually went on the record as such with NME. At this rate, Flowers’ mug could be used as a stand-in for a facepalm emoji.
Superfluous press statements aside, The Desired Effect contains some of Flowers’ strongest material. Bringing producer Ariel Rechtshaid onboard worked wonders for this synth-laden collection despite a reportedly tension-filled recording process. Fortunately, both parties realized the result was worth the bruises from butting heads.
If some Vegas glitter always finds its way into the Killers’ Springsteen-ian fist-pumping anthems, then this solo outing is a sparkle explosion. The ’80s reign supreme here and Flowers is an excellent showman. His voice never gets in the way of the layers upon layers of glossy synthesizers, drum-pads, and guitars, and they leave the appropriate room for him in turn.
Opener “Dreams Come True” recalls the hopeful desperation of those crazy kids Tommy and Gina in Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”, but trades in Richie Sambora’s talk box guitar for marching band drums and disheveled horns. “Can’t Deny My Love” shares the airy hallmarks of Rechtshaid’s work with the Haim sisters, while busting out some serious Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine beats. It also feels possessed by the ghost of Laura Branigan’s sensual 1984 hit, “Self Control”. Even the accompanying video, which pairs Flowers with actress Evan Rachel Wood on a set that looks leftover from a Crucible shoot, seems indebted to Branigan’s too-hot-for-MTV clip.
“Lonely Town” is the cheeriest tune from a stalker’s point of view you’ll ever hear, even though Flowers views it as an addendum to The Police’s dour “Every Breath You Take”. Electropop segues into gospel and a blip of Auto-Tune, giving peeping toms and their prey a reason to dance. On the healthier side of true love’s devotion, “Still Want You” finds Flowers pledging his undying affection over joyful dancehall rhythms, even in the face of nuclear distress, climate change, a spike in crime, and the mundane, yet terrifying passage of time.
Flowers, a practicing Mormon, doesn’t shy away from spiritual matters. The state of his soul comes into play on the dreamy “Between Me and You”. Spanish guitar flourishes and dainty piano accentuate the song’s take on Mary Oliver’s famous question about what you will do “with your one wild and precious life.” In “The Way It’s Always Been”, a middling mid-tempo number with a Beatles flair, Flowers breaks open the New Testament. “Everybody’s sitting around waiting for the Son to come again/ And hoping that he’s really got the power to save us from these sins,” he murmurs. It’s a deep thought from an album that works best when politics and organized religion get the brush off.
Essential Tracks: “Still Want You”, “Lonely Town”