After kicking in the back doors of dancefloor rock back in 2004, The Killers have always aimed high, but truth be told it always felt like Brandon Flowers had been born in the wrong decade. Constantly harking back to ’80s power ballads and stadium friendly synth anthems, it’s clear that the frontman has no interest in looking forward, so nostalgic are the nods in his songs. It’s gotten to the point now where over a decade in their career, and as anyone who listened to first solo album Flamingo will attest to, he’s doing nothing but repeating himself, never mind what’s come before him. Brandon Flowers? Bland-on Flowers, more like…
Exec-produced by Ariel Rechtshaid, who is quickly becoming one of the most overused and overrated producers in music today, The Desired Effect begins with ‘Dreams Come True’, a song that basically proclaims to newbies “Yes, I’m that guy from The Killers”. The weirdly terrible lyrics – “She didn’t want anything / No birds no bees / Don’t go shooting all the dogs / Just because one has flees” – and forgettable melody get us off to a bad start, but then ‘Can’t Deny My Heart’ course corrects us immediately. As a first single from the album, it was a wise choice thanks to that insanely catchy chorus and sets out Flowers non-Killers stall for what could have been, if only he didn’t revert back to his old ways every now and again.
The rest of the album follows suit, split between Flowers trying new things and sounding fresh, and then performing what should have been left as Killers b-sides. ‘I Can Change’ samples Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ to tremendous effect, even if lovers of the gay culture classic might feel hard-done by the heteronormative take-over, while ‘Lonely Town’ begins with a UFO-imitating Theremin and evolves into Flowers singing through Cher’s vocoder. Both of these will make killer (sorry) future singles.
In the middle ground, there are some songs that are stuck in between New Flowers and Old Killers, such as ‘Still Want You’, which sounds like the positive-message filled song you’d hear at the end of a children’s TV programme, or ‘Digging Up The Heart’, which sounds like The Killers re-appropriating their sound to satisfy a group of line-dancers at the local hoedown. Then there’s tracks like the Ryan Tedder-esque ‘Never Get You Right’ or the album closer ‘The Way It’s Always Been’, which could’ve been good if only for Flowers’ bizarre lyrical content: “They shifted the nuclear plant / Why wait and dress / I wake up every morning and wonder if I’m going to pass the test.” What? No, seriously, what?? Elsewhere, there’s the determinedly dull ‘Between Me And You’, while ‘Untangled Love’ is ready and waiting to be played over the wedding scene of any and all clichéd rom-coms from this point forward.
In short, The Desired Effect is a bit of an entertainingly hot fussy mess, with Flowers not exactly at the eye of the storm, but more likely the cause of it. There is the hint of the direction that he had intended, one he could absolute flourish in, but unfortunately he’s still weighed down by what’s expected of him.