God love Brandon Flowers, who has become as well know for the habit of putting his foot in his mouth as for fronting the Las Vegas band The Killers. It is almost as if he is trying to vying with Kanye West for who can draw the most indignation over silly statements. In Flowers case I can’t decide which is worse, claiming The Killers would be bigger than U2 or giving Thom Yorke unsolicited bad career advice. Usually his statements are badly timed moments before a new release. On May 19th Flowers released his second solo album, The Desired Effect, and right on schedule Mr. Flowers has yet again stuck his foot firmly in his mouth. Among many recent cringe worthy statements, Flowers dog piled on Kanye West declaring his distain for the quality of West’s work, the one thing West does have to his credit. He then stuck his oar in on copy write infringements, stating that more bands should be sued for the practice. Yikes, the axiom “physician heal thyself” springs to mind. It is safe to say Flowers won’t be complimented on his tack anytime in the near future.
The Desired Effect is the follow up to Flowers’ first solo album Flamingo which performed well commercially. Charting top 10 in 10 countries, and snagging a #1 in the UK. Flowers also gained a Q award nomination for best Male Artist in 2010 with the album. The single Crossfire was a top ten single in the UK. The new album was produced with Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, HAIM, Chouli XCX) in some admitted tension filled sessions and mixed by the legendary Alan Moulder at Battle Born Studios in Winchester, Nevada. There are also a lot of notable collaborations; Danielle Haim, Neil Tennant, Joey Waronker and Bruce Hornsby among many. On paper this looks like it should be an amazing album, but unfortunately it reveals itself as a listening experience that doesn’t progress past 1988. Flowers has always attempted to reach to Springsteen heights but this record is more like Bon jovi or at best Springsteen meets Wham.
I have a passing admiration for much of The Killers work but Flowers solo works are a bit lacking in my mind. On The Desired Effect there is a lot of over promising and under delivering. Flowers at one point stated that every song on the album could be a single; the reality does not support that statement. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t all woeful and throughout the album there are glimmers of what could have been, it just never gets to the place it promised. It is 80’s drivetime pop. If that description sounds good to you then this is your album. Flowers is asking big questions lyrically about mortality, ambition, desire and spirituality but sadly those worthy topics are all too easy to miss with the obscuring gloss of the accompanying sound.
The Desired Effect starts off with Dreams Come True it is an 80’s mainstream pop song. The track reminds me of the works of Lindsay Buckingham and Richard Marx. There are some good lyrics hidden among the anathematic bravado of the track. The song breaks little new ground. The next track Can’t Deny My Love is a bad creepy not good creepy (read “Every Breathe You Take”) stalker song. The Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine percussion is mixed with over the top attempts at heartfelt emotion which gave me flashbacks. In my visions I saw acid washed jeans, lacquered hair and LA gear sneakers, and it wasn’t pretty. I came away from this track thinking Flowers has a great voice but he needs to try a little originality. I was left pondering have The Killers ever been this bad, what had gone wrong?
The title of the third track I Can Change left me hoping things would change. Unfortunately it is more of the same. There is nothing wrong with the song but it feels contrived. Underneath all the over production, the song is about all the ways a lover is offering to change if the person they love will stay. There is an ever so slight nod to Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”.
I don’t know if it was intentional but Still Want You seems like a take off on Blondie’s “The Tide is High”, kind of ironic considering what Flowers has stated about copy write infringements, but I digress. The best thing I can say is the song didn’t irritate me as much as some of the others. I found the shrill back up vocal unsettling. Again a song with some promise is drowned by all the accompanying noise.
Between You and Me has a lovely Bruce Hornsby piano section. Again is it me or does the song lack authenticity. I can’t put my finger on what is missing, but this song is so close to being great that it actually becomes frustrating. It is shameful to waste Hornsby’s beautiful piano on this track.
Lonely Town or more aptly named “Richard Marx Attacks” gave me flashbacks of “Hold on to the Night” at the high school dance and I certainly hope Marx is getting some kind of writing credit or royalties on this one. The absolute bottom bit is the Peter Frampton voice processing section. As to the topic of the song, I think it is discussing Flower’s lonely childhood. Again the track feels like a faint photocopy of better music. The song did convince me that it could be utilized in any revival of the Footloose movie brand. Main reason being if Flowers was not trying to emulate Marx he certainly was channeling Kenny Loggins. The song is a derivative pop mess.
Things go from bad to worse with “Diggin Up the Heart”, there is so much wrong with this song, which I think is supposed to be about the redemption of a youth gone wrong. It comes across as Bon jovi on their debut release or Kenny Loggins attempting his very own version of their song Runaway. After losing the thread about what Flowers was on about, I started to envision this song accompanying an action sequence in the movies Teenwolf or Caddyshack IV and it worked, and so it goes. On Never Get You Right the protagonist suffers from being misunderstood and prejudged. This is followed by Untangled Love which is just album fodder bemoaning small town youthful angst. On both tracks you can glide right by, and not missing anything noteworthy.
Just when you think you can write this off as a substandard solo effort, up comes The Way it’s Always Been, or as I like to think of it, what the album should have been. This song is the one that justifies releasing the album. It is a song with authenticity; it is not over produced but striped back and if you will simple as it reveals some true emotions. The gospel tinged track ruminated over nostalgia for childhood and religious beliefs. The keeper lyric, “Everybody’s sitting around waiting for the son to come back again… hoping that he’s really got the power to save us from our sins” is as powerful as it is insightful. Now on the whole I prefer Sufjan Stevens’ take on soul searching religious examination i.e. “Carrie and Lowell”, but this is a beautiful insightful lyric. It is a shame Flowers didn’t use this song as a guidepost for the album, he would have had a winner on his hands and I would be writing a way different review.
The tragedy of The Desired Effect is that there was such potential for a great album and it was wasted with over instrumentation and maybe one too many collaborations. Flowers has superb vocal skills and excellent lyrical sensibility, but this is all obscured by the dated “too much is never enough” musical accompaniment. The last track does stop me from completely panning the release. If you are an Alternative Music fan or have liked The Killers prior work, The Desired Effect is not the record for you. Stay on the highway and don’t get off this ramp.