While the rest of The Killers have a lie down and pretend their singer’s work ethic isn’t happening, Brandon Flowers releases his second solo album. It’s his seventh album in 12 years; what is he running on?
A solo career was a sure bet, with Flowers pieced together with attributes generally overlooked when constructing rock singers: evangelist religion, Pet Shop Boys’ Behaviour, and the Marlborough man, but he’s possibly the last proper pop star. Yet his skill is in remaining the outsider; he understands that the romance remains with the dreamer, not the achiever.
The last time we saw him he was throwing himself at the O2 with the enthusiasm of four men, which in light of the rest of The Killers sulking like teenagers on a family holiday was a good thing. The band were peaking with their fourth proper album, Battle Born, which felt like an attempt to be as big as U2 - something even U2 currently struggle with, being unable to stay on stage, iTunes or even a bike. Typically, Flowers now thinks Battle Born wasn’t good enough, and a week after the release of The Desired Effect, he already wants The Killers, to whom he remains loyal, to prove themselves again.
Unlike his first solo album, named after Flamingo road in Las Vegas, The Desired Effect, is seemingly based upon Steve Winwood and Rod Stewart 1980s’ album covers. It’s quick off the grid with “Dreams Come True”, wander-lusting, and dribbling over some distant horizon of ‘a country unseen’ before even catching his breath. As someone who once hoped to be a bellboy, he admirably plays down any smugness at all he’s achieved.
Once you recover from backing vocals that appear to have drunkenly put their head around the dressing room’s door, the stalkerish “Can’t Deny My Love” is vintage wide screen pop. It’s reminiscent of Kate Bush, as is the video, which puts rumours of cult practices by Mormons to rest by, well, depicting hooded cultish practices.
While the Killers hinted at a love for smooth AOR, this screams it. "I Can Change" is impossible to hear without scrunching up your shirt-front and singing into a wind fan, and that’s before the sample of synth pop’s finest moment (Bronski Beat’s “Small Town Boy”) kicks in. It’s a John Hughes film in four minutes. And has a snatch of Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant. It’s so good that whatever following it was going to struggle - “Still Want You” is weedy, despite its gospel choir.
Flamingo sounded like a Killers album that the others hadn’t bothered to turn up to, but this is truly his own. Somehow, from a Vegas resident who probably still hasn’t seen real snow, the Scandinavian melancholy of a-Ha prevails throughout. The glorious synth pop of “Lonely Town” could be Hall and Oates, and there are echoes of Everything But The Girl on the gentle pain of Never Get You Right. Aside from a slightly unconvincing detour through Nevada’s country clubs via the Huey Lewis and the News 12-bar boogie of Digging Up The Heart, it’s packed with wistful hit singles; that’s if pop songs charted these days, which they don’t.
Somehow, despite his success, Flowers understands that good music isn’t about what you have, but what could have been, and although his wife must wonder who he’s singing about all the time, the rest of us can press our face against the windows of childhood car journeys, and dream.