music review – Brandon Flowers, The Desired Effect

Back in 2010, in between the Killers records Day & Age and Battle Born, enigmatic frontman Brandon Flowers delivered his first solo record Flamingo. What that album made abundantly clear, is that Flowers is responsible for most of the Killers’ signature sound; Flamingo was filled with the same catchy and radio-friendly rock songs the band is known for. That solo effort allowed for some experimentation, though: the arrangements on Flowers’ solo debut differed significantly from most of the Killers tracks in terms of instrumentation. Additionally it was also a mellower record, filled with polished pop ballads, a switch that was largely followed through on the Killers’ 2012 standout album Battle Born. Now, after the Killers’ compilation record Direct Hits, it’s time for The Desired Effect, Flowers’ second solo outing and a logical next step musically.

From Flower’s Flamingo and the Killers’ Battle Born it was quite apparent that the singer/songwriter has a fondness for the Eighties; songs like ‘Swallow It’ and ‘Was It Something I Said?’ evoked that era to a T, the former track almost Talking Heads’ish. On The Desired Effect Flowers goes the extra mile: the videos for ‘Still Want You’ and ‘Lonely Town’ both explicitly pay homage to the decade, in addition to the album’s instrumentation and songwriting that’s clearly heavily influenced by the era’s pop music. Flowers even goes so far as to sample Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ on his song ‘I Can Change’, which again shows you how he’s not shy about his influences. It also sums up why The Desired Effect is such a joy to listen to: it’s an unabashed and stylized ’80s record for people who enjoy ’80s pop music as much as Brandon Flowers does.

Influences and flirtations aside, The Desired Effect wouldn’t have, er, the desired effect if the songwriting on it wasn’t as good as it is. Over the years Flowers has honed his skills writing powerful pop songs and power ballads that took simple but full stories and emotions and elevated them to something more than kitsch because Flowers runs with them so wholeheartedly. Love songs about boys and girls with dreams either broken or still beckoning at the horizon, are still at the core of the album, and Flowers once again manages to make you buy into the lyrics that would come off as sentimental in the hands of a less skilled performer. There’s a pureness and earnestness on display, something that appeals to the basic human nature and tugs at your heartstrings whether you want it to or not. Most of that has to do with Flowers unique voice and strong, rich vocal performances at the heart of every song on the record. Even when tracks like ‘Dreams Come True’, ‘Between Me And You’ and ‘Never Get You Right’ get quite loud because of the addition of drums or layers of back vocalists, Flowers voice is always the warm center of a song’s production, which is a wise decision.

Boasting only ten tracks, The Desired Effect is a short record but satisfying one. Except for the dud that is ‘Diggin’ Up The Heart’, an utterly forgettable song that’s at times reminiscent of the also utterly forgettable Dire Straits’ song ‘Walk Of Life’ and – strangely – The Little Mermaids‘ ‘Under The Sea’, the material is strong here. ‘Never Get You Right’, for example, is a strong piano ballad with a killer chorus and smooth bass line that would be a classic now had it been released in the Eighties. Closing track ‘The Way It’s Always Been’ has a beautiful climax with woodwinds kicking in, to chilling effect. ‘Lonely Town’ then is the kind of track that would remind you of your favorite ’80s movie, had it been on its soundtrack back then: a great thudding synth bass, a driving drum beat, bubblegum hooks and the surprise banjo make this song an unbelievably catchy pop song. Actually, besides ‘Diggin’ Up The Heart’ the only other track that seems quite mediocre at first is ‘Untangled Love’, but that changes when the song ultimately redeems itself through its captivating chorus and some clever tempo changes and sudden instrument changes. All in all The Desired Effect contains a strong batch of songs and because of its stylized and clear direction it’s a sharper, more focused album than Flamingo was.

Brandon Flowers’ ode to the Eighties is a unabashed pop record that revels in its influences and nostalgia. Additionally it’s catchy, lean and sugary sweet in all the right ways. 8/10

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