Ex-cons, lost angels, stalkers, the struggling, the lonely and the damned. If Brandon Flowers’ 2010 solo debut ‘Flamingo’ celebrated home, faith and the romance of the Mojave Desert, his second, ‘The Desired Effect’, takes a grittier view on Fabulous Las Vegas. On ‘Diggin’ Up The Heart’, a housebreaker returns from the state pen tormented by dreams of damnation and unable to change his criminal ways. ‘Lonely Town’ sees a jilted loner break into his ex’s house, knife in hand and reason running red. A hooker from a broken home – “born lost and dirt blonde” – sneers at the kerb-crawling traffic during ‘Never Get You Right’. Throw in a terminal illness and some hard drugs and HBO would be biting Brandon’s hand off to make it into a mini-series.
But if the lyrical content reads like a full-length cinema cut of ‘Hot Fuss’ opener ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ (which told the story of a man being questioned about a woman’s murder), musically it sits at the more recent end of The Killers’ oeuvre. Having lived out all of his Bono, Morrissey, Simon Le Bon and Springsteen fantasies with his main band, the 33-year-old Flowers has been using his solo albums to explore the slicker, cornier US mainstream end of the ‘80s. ‘Flamingo’ emulated Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Kate Bush and Tom Petty and this time he mullets to the max, rolls his blazer sleeves to the elbow and throws himself even deeper into the dry ice. With the help of some authentic ‘80s soft rock names such as Peter Gabriel bassist Tony Levin and Kenny Aronoff, drummer for heartland rocker John Mellencamp, he and Haim producer Ariel Rechtshaid out themselves as true Friends Of Foreigner on the plush, misty likes of ‘Between Me And You’, lead single ‘Can’t Deny My Love’ and streetwalker’s lament ‘Never Get You Right’. How much of an ‘80s homage is this album? There are blasts of electro-shock synth, afrobeats and drum-pads and guitar riffs designed to sound like Lear jets buzzing the Grand Canyon. Retro synthpopper ‘I Can Change’ samples Bronski Beat’s 1984 hit ‘Smalltown Boy’ and features Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant intoning backing vocals.
Even within so rigid a retro straitjacket, though, Flowers finds wriggle-room to experiment, particularly on the more thematically colourful tracks. On propulsive opener ‘Dreams Come True’ he assumes the role of a dusty busker fantasising of the limousine life to the sound of blazing horns, Paul Simon bass and crisp modern beats. ‘Still Want You’ declares its unflinching love in a world of “climate change and debt” and “nuclear distress” over tin can percussion and synthetic marimbas. The murderous stalker of ‘Lonely Town’ breaks and enters his ex’s place to auto-tuned gospel refrains, the ex-con holding up a bank clerk in the cracking ‘Diggin’ Up The Heart’ makes his escape to pulsing pop synths and line-dancing country rock hooks and the snarling prostitute of ‘Never Get You Right’ turns her tricks to serrated slashes of heavily-treated strings.
For all its slavering over archaic ‘80s production cheese, ‘The Desired Effect’ is a consistently impressive collection – probably the strongest Brandon’s produced since 2006’s ‘Sam’s Town’ – that even includes an uncharacteristic wobble of faith. “Everybody’s sitting around waiting for the Son to come again”, he croons on the swelling country of ‘The Way It’s Always Been’, “and hoping that he’s really got the power to save us from these sins”. But even if the big JC lets us all down, Brandon’s own Second Coming undoubtedly delivers.
- Director: Ariel Rechtshaid, Brandon Flowers
- Record label: Vertigo
- Release date: 18 May, 2015