On the off chance that someone reading this isn’t already aware, Brandon Flowers is The Killers’ lead vocalist, who also plays guitar and keyboards, although not on every song. With the band, he’s released four original albums (Hot Fuss, Sam’s Town, Day & Age and Battle Born), a rarities compilation (Sawdust) and a live album (Live from Royal Albert Hall). Of those, Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town especially are mandatory listening; all killer, no filler. Hot Fuss was released in 2004, a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of exciting new music coming down the pipeline. Queens of The Stone Age were on everybody’s radar, as were Gorillaz, but Las Vegas, Nevada’s The Killers were the band who stole the year. The album had one hit single after another: “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.” And I sang them all at karaoke, all summer long. (I think the only other two songs I sang regularly were Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes.) Meanwhile, I had Hot Fuss in my CD changer constantly. And when I wasn’t listening to it on my home stereo, I was usually listening to it on my computer. Suffice to say it consumed me and I consumed it. The same thing happened when Sam’s Town was released in 2006. As much as I loved Hot Fuss I didn’t think they could deliver another album bursting with such energy and inspired songs. There’s always something magic like that about debuts and most bands fail to reproduce it on their sophomore efforts. But Sam’s Town was even better than Hot Fuss. I was in awe, blown away. These days, I love them equally, but the summer Sam’s Town was released, well, it was just like the summer of 2004, The Killers on repeat chez moi. Both Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town would be on my top 20 list of my favorite albums of all-time. I wasn’t so taken by their next two albums; each had some great songs and some that were, well, as much as it pains me to admit it, filler.
The Killers’ last album was 2012’s Battle Born. I caught them last year at Mohegan Sun Arena and thought they were gearing up to do a reunion tour, following their hiatus, and to make a new album. Unfortunately, they’d booked the gig as a one-off to practice for some festival gigs they had coming up that summer. And after they did those their hiatus resumed. But then it was announced that Brandon Flowers was working on his second solo album, following 2010’s excellent Flamingo, which charted in the top 10 in 10 countries, including the UK. Suffice to say it was a success. And, yes, I loved it. It was different from The Killers’ material largely because it featured more synth and had something of an ’80’s vibe at times. And it was decidedly more pop. All of these things can also be said of his new solo album, The Desired Effect, which sees its release today. The difference between Flamingo and The Desired effect is that the latter is even more in the pop vein and has even more synth and an even stronger ’80’s vibe.
The album opens with a bang in the form of “Dreams Come True,” which instantly worms its way inside your head with its loud and lively horns and frantic beats. “If you see things a little different / I’m not casting any stones,” Flowers sings enthusiastically. The song is as passionate as a song can possibly be and one of the best openers I’ve heard in ages. And while it’s not a dance track, it never fails to make me feel like bouncing around. There’s just so much energy running through it; it’s contagious.
The record was helmed by producer du jour Ariel Rechtshaid (HAIM, Charli XCX, Sky Ferreira). Flowers has referred to him as his “co-captain” in recent interviews and you can hear his influence throughout the record. Rechtshaid has produced an eclectic bunch of records, but they all ultimately have a pop sheen, artsy pop clearly being his specialty. And that’s exactly what Flowers wanted to make with this album. That much is obvious halfway through its second song, lead single “Can’t Deny My Love.” It’s something David Bowie might have written during his Let’s Dance phase. Or something Depeche Mode might have done circa “People Are People.” To say it’s radio-friendly is an understatement. It just begs to be in heavy rotation and it deserves to be with its jumpy beats, vibrant ’80’s synth and infectious chorus.
“Girl, I can change for you,” Flowers pleads during “I Can Change,” which slows things down a bit during the first third of the song. “Even if it’s not who I am / I can change.” Whether or not you think someone can truly change that much to accommodate another doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to believe that’s possible. To fully enjoy this song you simply need to believe that Flowers means it. And he sure sounds like he does as he delivers his soulful vocals here. “I’ll be what you’re looking for.” What a great song to include next time you make a mix CD for a potential mate.
Things go somewhat reggae during the bright and shiny “Still Want You.” The gem of a song has layers and layers of funky percussion, which has a captivating effect on the listener. Furthering the song’s funk influence is the groovy bass guitar work. But what truly makes the song a winner is its boisterous backing vocals, which consist of a chorus of girls alternating lines with Flowers. It’s very Phil Spector-esque and charming.
If there’s one song that truly sounds like it’s been pulled out of a time capsule from the ’80’s it’s “Lonely Town” with its glimmering synth and old school drum machine beats. “I’m hanging on the end of this rope / Somewhere on the outskirts of hope,” Flowers sings, channeling any new wave band that ever scored a major hit. It’s become very chic for artists to do ’80’s retro songs of late and most of them sound like rubbish, like desperate recreations of the decade’s worst music. But Flowers clearly knows what was cool about the ’80’s sound and what wasn’t, the proof being how wonderful this track is.
“The Way It’s Always Been” closes out the album with Flowers spinning a tale about desperate times, working at a chemical plant, trying to please a woman, “laying low just long enough for the dust to settle down.” It’s like classic Johnny Cash being covered by New Order. But then, later, it gets super melodious and comes across like a lost song by The Beatles. “Everybody sitting ’round waiting for the sun to come again,” he sings as the song nears its end. It’s kind of how I felt while I was awaiting the release of this album. Being such a big fan of Flowers and The Killers, I was dying for new material from him. At times it felt like a grey cloud was following me around. And now that The Desired Effect has arrived, it’s like the sun has finally come again. And that’s not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all. If you want to brighten your day, give this record a spin or a stream. It will have the desired effect.