james debate
james debate

Monday 1 June 2015

Genre Alternative Pop
Label Island
Producers Ariel Rechtshaid, Brandon Flowers

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Brandon Flowers is a peculiar creature as far as rock stars go. An innocent Mormon boy, former bellhop from Sin City itself in Nevada, Flowers somehow found himself launched into super-stardom as the posterchild of the new-wave electro-rock movement of the mid 2000s, unusually by way of the European record labels.

Best known as the leading man of The Killers, Brandon has written some of the most recognizable hits of the past decade. Songs like Mr. Brightside which ten years later still has the unique ability to send an entire room full of people into a frenzy in a way that few songs in a generation do. Such is the musician's prolificacy that when his band goes into hiatus he just has to keep working on solo material. The Desired Effect is now the second such solo album to be released.

There has always been a curious dynamic between Flowers and his Killers bandmates, reigning in Flowers' sprawling, freewheeling ideas with their more grounded, rock and roll style. Still there is no doubting that Brandon Flowers is the core of the band; he is the song-writer, the creative force. There have long been rumours of Flowers wanting to break free, to branch out and become a bona-fide solo superstar in the mold of a Lady Gaga or David Bowie. Yet for all his talent and recognition with The Killers, that breakthrough as a solo artist, the boost needed to make him one of the biggest household names in the world, has always seemed one step too far.

The first album, Flamingo, was met with a lukewarm reception. The conventional wisdom had it that Flowers, without the moderation of his bandmates, was just too far from the mainstream. But there was brilliance in that album, intelligent songwriting with Flowers' trademark flair. The real problem was one of production. Over the top effects, unnecessary vocal layering, music levels all out of whack; Flamingo was a frustrating experiences precisely because there are songs with great ideas and sublime moments in them ruined by messy production and baffling creative choices.

And so The Desired Effect sees a new production team in place. Multi-Grammy Award winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid takes the helm, bringing with him experience of working with some of the biggest stars in the world from Madonna to Beyoncé, to Vampire Weekend and Haim, and the difference is like night and day.

One of the first things that strikes you upon listening to The Desired Effect is how finely honed every track is. There is barely a note put wrong, not a single layer that sounds out of place or jarring, each of the album's 10 slick tracks are radio-ready hits. The quality of the production is such that even the lesser songs, which are inferior to some of those on Flamingo, sound better.

The key tracks are without doubt the four singles released ahead of the album. Can't Deny My Love is a track that sounds very reminiscent of the darker tone of Flamingo, and as a result serves as one of the best examples of the progress that's been made. This is Flowers at his most off-the-wall as far as The Desired Effect goes, big vocal effects, heavy percussion, layered backing vocals, and epic scale. It's exactly the sort of song that on Flamingo would have come out sounding like a mess, but here it's just slick stadium pop, a throwback to David Bowie or Pet Shop Boys in their 1980s pomp.

Still Want You takes things to another level with one of the finer tracks of the year so far. Again Flowers wears his influences on his sleeve, sounding like such a dead ringer for Young American's era David Bowie he could well have been listed a contributor. It's one of those impossibly catchy songs, with a great hook that lends itself well to live concert sing-along sessions with the audience. Top notch.

Which brings us to Lonely Town, which is pretty much a perfect pop song. Pure 1980s glam with the catchiest chorus we've heard in years, belying the darker meaning of the lyrics which are intended as a sort of spiritual successor to Sting's anthem to stalkers, Every Breath You Take.

The final of the first four singles I Can Change returns to the 1980s New Romantic period with quite a breathtaking anthem of desperation. The driving beat besot with piano and Flowers' falsetto make for quite an addictive concoction.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The album has plenty of quality throughout, from the brassy opener Dreams Come True to the delicate Between Me and You, the rockabilly Diggin up the Heart, or the wonderful semi-acoustic number The Way It's Always Been. These are all very fine songs, and even the less inspired tracks sound like superlative pop down to the slick production and undoubted talent of Mr. Flowers.

Ultimately this places The Desired Effect undoubtedly right up there with the best albums of the year, and possibly a major breakthrough moment for Brandon Flowers' solo career. The rest of The Killers must surely hear this and fear for their jobs, Brandon is on superb form without them, and has created an album which by merit of it's expert studio work is worth far more than the sum of its parts.

Must Listen :
Lonely Town
Still Want You
Can't Deny My Love
I Can Change

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