Review: Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect

An unremarkable homage to the eighties.

Since strutting into the public eye with The Killers in 2004, Brandon Flowers has cultivated an image and sound for himself that has always appeared equal parts Morrissey, Pet Shop Boys, Bruce Springsteen and a hint of Bryan Ferry.

The Desired Effect is his latest offering, and while it’s all well and good to borrow from other artists, Flowers would be wise to remember that all four of the artists he pilfers from are guilty of releasing the occasional shocker too.

Let’s start with the positives and work our way back, shall we?

The Way It’s Always Been concludes the album, and is easily the most impressive and moving track of this 10-song set. A loping, sun-dazed bassline and slow-moving vocals set the tone, before the gorgeous guitar and organ work creep in. There are parping horns and references to childhood friends, wide horizons, self-doubt, salvation and sunlight. Gorgeous stuff really.

Flowers sings about “standing on the water’s edge/waiting for the fog to clear” during The Way It’s Always Been and, thankfully, it really does sound like the tacky, eighties-obsessed fog that engulfed much of The Desired Effect has finally been lifted.

It’s a shame he left it so late.

Bruce Springsteen’s working-class-hero-on-the-wide-open-road shtick haunts much of this album, but never more so than on the opener Dreams Come True. Musically, the track resembles countless other mid-eighties soft rock pieces, and fails to reach any notable highs. After multiple listens, the shimmying chimes that open the album are cringe-inducing.

Flowers is a capable of far stronger lyrics than he offers here (Dreams come true/Yes they do”… “But one fine day/we’ll find a better way”). I can’t imagine he wrote Dreams Come True with The Biggest Loser commercials in mind, but that’s where this track is destined to head.

The Eighties motif continues with I Can Change, which samples the pulsating bass line, soft synth strokes and soaring background vocals of Bronski Beat’s 1984 hit Smalltown Boy. It’s a telling that one of The Desired Effect’s most interesting and enjoyable tracks is actually heavily indebted to another group. Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys fame also pops up on the track in an unremarkable guest-vocal spot.

As a Killers fan, I wanted to like this album, I really did, but The Desired Effect’s obsession with such overblown eighties excess has made it difficult. For me, the final straw was Digging Up The Heart, which sounds like a lazy rehash of Kenny Loggins’ Footloose. Perhaps if I was a bigger fan of the original Footloose, I would have enjoyed Flowers’ version a bit more.

Admittedly, there are some decent, well-produced and harmless pop moments contained within The Desired Effect, including Untangled Love and the Gospel-tinged Still Want You. The album is likely to be a decent earner – but for a guy who once declared loudly, “It’s indie rock ‘n’ roll for me,” Flowers sounds like he has shifted his musical allegiances elsewhere.

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