Brandon Flowers’ second solo album begins triumphantly with the momentous Dreams Come True. This track shows a great deal of promise for the album, with sufficient pizazz, bolstered by a punchy brass section, rolling drums, and a captivating chorus. Five years after his previous solo album, Flamingo, and three years after the last Killers album, Battle Born, The Desired Effect comes as a welcome affirmation that Mr Flowers is still very much alive and kicking in the music business. Yet, although the record boasts several very good songs, I can’t help feeling that it doesn’t quite live up to the legacy Brandon has built with The Killers. But then again, why should it?
There are moments when a Killers-esque intensity breaks through, such as on the lead single, Can’t Deny My Love, a spooky and dramatic track with a killer chorus (no pun intended) and compellingly bizarre lyrics. I haven’t the faintest idea what the song is about and yet I find it totally enthralling. Untangled Love, another song that would fit comfortably on a late Killers album (Ronnie Vanucci even plays drums on it), offers a powerful vocal performance and a relentless sense of magnitude and momentum.
Lonely Town and Still Want You show Brandon taking on, to surprisingly great effect, the genre of 80s synth-pop. Still Want You, the album’s second single, is catchy, danceable, and fun. He croons
“Time is passing by I still want you Crime is on the rise I still want you Climate change and debt I still want you Nuclear distress I still want you”
You can practically hear the twinkle in his eyes. I try to ignore the fact that this track kind of reminds me of Pop Goes My Heart from Music & Lyrics, that film where Hugh Grant plays a washed-up pop star, since this is such a genuinely sweet love song, plus the video is adorable.
Lonely Town, the record’s third single, is Brandon’s best departure from his usual sound. It is 80s to the core, with a bold brass section, Van Halen synths, fuzzy bass, and excellently incorporated vintage computer-game sounds. The music is so uplifting that it’s easy not to notice the sinister lyrics slipping by. “Now I’m standing outside your house / And I’m wondering, baby,” he sings. Here the song steps up its pace and the slight hysteria that comes into his voice on the word “baby” at 1:47 is chilling. “Did you lock the door when it shut? / Did you see the knife when it cut? / Do you keep your ear to the ground?” he demands as the music becomes more chaotic, culminating in a fantastically eery, wailing female vocal solo, before the song ends abruptly, leaving the listener wondering.
Now for the critique: the record’s fourth single, I Can Change, is uncharacteristically uninspiring. I don’t hate it, by any means; it’s just rather average, which isn’t something I expect from Mr Flowers. It’s heavily reliant on a sample from Small Town Boy by Bronski Beat (used very effectively, I think) but the song goes on for far too long and is just a bit boring. Furthermore, it features the bland and disingenuous lyrics “I can change for you, girl / Even if it’s not who I am.” Diggin’ Up The Heart is rather forgettable and Never Get You Right, though sweet, is not particularly remarkable either (though I have a feeling it could be a grower).
Even for the most dedicated of Killers fans (among whom I include myself, if you couldn’t tell) I imagine there will be a sense that Brandon has lost a bit of his magic, especially since the last Killers record was not a huge success. Though there are a lot of very good songs on this record, there is nothing with the power and impact of When You Were Young or All These Things That I’ve Done. This is made even more poignant by the lovely Between Me And You, where he softly confesses, “Between me and you / I think I’m losing it now” perhaps suggesting that he knows that his material isn’t as strong as it was ten years ago. If this were a debut album, or if I were just comparing it to Flamingo, I’d probably give it a higher rating since it really is a very good record. But in comparison to Brandon’s work with The Killers, I can’t help feeling that this album is a little bit lightweight.
The Desired Effect is still well worth a listen for the moments, and there are many of them, where Brandon’s magic shines through, whether in the form of a powerful and expansive songscape or his effectively taking on a genre we’ve not heard from him before. After all, Brandon Flowers is a tremendously talented man and I do believe it would take some effort for him to produce a bad record.