If you told us at the beginning of the year that the man who’d have most command over a traditional pop melody in 2015 was Brandon Flowers, we’d have laughed in your face. And then we’d have slapped you and told you to stop being so ridiculous, because neither Flowers nor The Killers have made a decent record since Hot Fuss. That was over a decade ago.
And yet here we are, with Can’t Deny My Love on repeat since it first emerged, marvelling at hour Brandon Flowers is basically becoming the pop star that dozens of other men couldn’t be (poor old Frankmusik). Clearly it was a smart move for Flowers to team up with producer-du-jour Ariel Rechtshaid for The Desired Effect. Whatever flecks of promise were present on Crossfire have been extrapolated into something really quite lovely.
As lovely as a hark-back it is, we can’t say it’s overly ground-breaking – these are songs that will sit comfortably on the Radio 2 daytime playlist, whether it’s due to Flowers’ traditional pop-rock delivery on Dreams Come True (with flecks of Springsteen on Still Want You and Diggin’ Up The Heart) or the twinkling 80s synth on I Can Change, which also boasts a vocal feature from Neil Tennant. No prizes for guessing what’s being channelled here, though both Flowers and Rechtshaid manage to nail something more towards the scale of timeless than dated.
Flowers’ storytelling also shows a marked improvement in this record. The Way It Always Been adopts a brilliant gospel-troubadour role that deserves a mention; if it had come from the jaws of any lo-fi Pitchfork-baiting alt-pop artist, the credibility would be lauded. Whatever you think of the man’s previous work (and we’ve thought a lot), there’s an added layer of depth and integrity that deserves to be recognised.
The influences from road-pop and radio-rock are more than obvious here, but The Desired Effect never feels derivative. It’s a hugely accomplished commercial record that seems likely to appeal to both 80s fetishists and those after something a little bit different from Flowers’ usual shouting matches. The little flourishes keep it fresh (see-sawing from vocoded to choir-backed on Lonely Town, for example), fresh enough for us to discard our preternatural aversion to that decade. While he’s plundering the past, maybe it’s also time for Brandon Flowers to take one last look behind him, shake off The Killers, and celebrate this as a hugely important chapter for his career as a solo artist.
The Desired Effect by Brandon Flowers can be ordered here.