First Impressions: Brandon Flowers, “The Desired Effect”

The_Desired_EffectKillers albums are always the damnedest things, and Brandon Flower’s second solo album is more bewildering still: Unencumbered by the rationalizing forces of democracy and free to indulge in his wildest flights of bizarre taste, Flowers has created a record of strange juxtapositions, high drama, and odd aesthetic touchstones. His heart is still in Sam’s Town—his lyrics still favor sepia-toned mythologizing, and he sings several songs in a Springsteen impersonation that’s dialed back a notch from Jimmy Fallon’s send-up, but just a notch—yet, Vegas son that he is, he can’t seem to escape his penchant for garish colors, over-the-top spectacle, and strained neon. The Desired Effect nicks nearly all of its production tricks from So-era Peter Gabriel or—more significantly—from Pet Shop Boys, though let it be said that this works better than you might think: When his flair for drama and his instincts for melody intersect, as they do smashingly on “Can’t Deny My Love,” the result is a synth-driven anthem that you might find yourself singing at full-volume in your car and feel vaguely embarrassed about, though you shouldn’t. More often, the union of aesthetics results in a misbegotten mishmash: “Diggin’ Up The Heart” is a small-town short story (opening line: “Tony came back to town, with his cap and gown”) set to pulsing New Wave rockabilly, if you can believe it, while another song finds him singing about a “kid from Lonely Town,” his voice Autotuned like he’s T-Pain. There is also his dip into messianic love songs on a number called “Still Want You,” where he pledges his faithful love even amidst rising tides, “hurricanes and floods,” and the ominous-sounding “nuclear distress.” Even Bono would likely counsel him to come down from the cross. What’s ultimately, maddeningly strange and appealing about it all is that Flowers seems like he really means it, man; The Desired Effect may scale Bat Out of Hell levels of ridiculousness but the stupidity and tastelessness of it are offered obliviously and sincerely. He’s a weird guy but he’s guileless, and there’s something to be said than that. Plus, you have to hear the record just to hear him sing this line: “She wasn’t having anything, no birds or any bees/ Girl, don’t go shootin’ all the dogs down cause one of ‘em’s got fleas.”

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