Brandon Flowers is a confusing man. One minute he’s shrugging off the idea of being a pop star, the next minute he sounds like he wants a radio hit so badly. One minute he’s talking trash about Kanye West, the next he’s in a music video with Charlize Theron. His band, The Killers, have been hailed as one of the best alternative rock bands of the millennium, yet his latest solo album cover looks like something from a GQ spread. It’s hard to put a finger on the mindset of Mr. Flowers, and his latest musical effort further blurs him from depiction.
The Desired Effect is Flowers second solo album after 2010’s Flamingo. This time around, Flowers appears to go for a more mainstream form of musical delivery. He throws everything but a trap beat onto the record, including synthesizers, horns, strings, gospel choirs, a vocoder and snippets from a Bronski Beat song. It all sounds like Phil Collins trying to make a comeback with “hip” music for the kids, or if Cut Copy wanted to be heard next to Taylor Swift on the radio. Opener “Dreams Come True” sounds like a throwaway 90s Springsteen track, while “I Can Change,” is reminiscent of Phoenix to the point where Flowers’ falsetto sounds like Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars. Flowers seems to be trying as many tastes as he can without finding a solid, recognizable sound. Fans of The Killers will be pleased with “Diggin’ Up The Heart” and “Never Get You Right,” which have the energy and emotional nakedness of a Killers classic. As far as Flowers making his own memorable sound, he leaves a lasting impression on “I Can Change,” with its gothic synthesizer and subtle tone leaves Flowers enough room to be the romantic crooner he’s trying to be.
From his puckered lips and medium shots of his cool white blazer in the album booklet, Flowers is clearly playing the lover, not the fighter. “Can’t Deny My Love” is Flowers waiting for the silent moments between his girl to end and for the love-making to begin, despite the holy presence in the back of his mind (“The eyes of God/Watching over us so we don’t break the golden rule”). “I Can Change” would probably tug on the same emo heartstrings of those who fell for “Mr. Brightside” over a decade ago, whereas “Lonely Town” feels like something John Cusack should’ve blasted out of a boombox in Say Anything. If there’s one thing that Flowers specializes in, it’s making lovey-dovey lyrics seem legit. Lines like, “But they’ll never get you right/I’ve been watching you all night/And the people passing by/Should tremble at your sight,” could be seen as juvenile, but something about Flowers’ open and bombastic delivery sells it.
That actually seems to be the entire goal of The Desired Effect; selling Brandon Flowers as a pop star. While the charms of his songwriting are still intact, the musical delivery is stiff as a board and never really jumps out from the speakers. There’s too much New Wave-sheen and polished production on The Desired Effect to leave a lasting impression. As The Killers appear to be slowly fading away into the memory of early-2000s alternative, Flowers seems to be trying to find a new sound to latch on to. Unfortunately, he needs to look forward and not back at a decade over 30 years old.