Brandon Flowers’ ‘The Desired Effect’: Album Review

Bianca Gracie | May 19, 2015 6:07 am
Miguel Performs An Intense Version Of "Coffee"
Watch him perform a Wale-free version of the single.

We’re all aware that pop music has been in a lull since 2013 wrapped up, but this year is slowly changing that fact — and this time around, it’s all due to the men! The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers first announced plans for a second solo album (his follow-up to 2010’s Flamingo) two years ago, telling NME:  “I’m excited about going home. I’m looking forward to having a normal year. But I’m going to write. I’m going to be filing those diamonds, It’s my job. I’m just going to put my heart and soul into my solo record.”

Fast forward to today (), and Flowers has lived up to his hearty promise. His sophomore album, The Desired Effect, has now arrived — and it is a project that will help push pop music forward in 2015. To be completely honest, I have not followed his career as a solo artist nor as a Killers member, but this new album campaign piqued my interest. Flowers, along with the help of bonafide producer Ariel Rechtshaid (as well as Bruce Hornsby, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys and the Killers’ Ronnie Vannucci), has created a piece of work that brings back genuine meaning and the art of storytelling into pop music.

The album kicks off with a bang, thanks to the super-lush “Dreams Come True.” This uptempo track (which has an evident Bruce Springsteen influence) crashes the eardrums like a true Las Vegas showman, due to its rumbling drum patterns and attention-grabbing horn melodies. “Spend your life, bracing for the crash land/ You forget, baby it’s a dreamland/ Take a chance, underneath the streetlight/ Cross my heart, everything is alright.” Upon listening to the song, you come to realize that Flowers’ album is already in its own lane.

Following is “Can’t Deny My Love,” The Desired Effect’s triumphant lead single and the song that first drew me into this album. What makes this such a standout is its masterful juxtaposition — a tool that is severely missing in pop music today. The production itself has a very uplifting, ’80s-tinged melody. Yet the lyrics are quite abrasive! Just look at the chorus: “And you can run to the hillside/ And you can close your eyes/ But you’re not gonna, not gonna deny/ No you’re not gonna, not gonna deny my love.” The push-and-pull of varying emotions and themes (lust, romance, pain, dominance) gives “Can’t Deny My Love” a sonic heartiness that sticks in your head long after the song is over.

“I Can Change,” which is the true stunner off the LP, reads like the second chapter of “Can’t Deny My Love.” This chilling tune finds Flowers peddling back from his original commanding statement in the previous track, and convincing his lover that he is different now. Sampling Bronski Beat’s 1984 gay anthem “Smalltown Boy,” it finds the singer’s slightly manic vocals echoing in and out of the heartbeat-mimicking synths, which makes the song all the more haunting.

The overall production of the album comes at the ears with full force, but songs like “Between Me And You” provide a welcomed change of pace. This mid-tempo ballad finds Flowers’ vocals at his most delicate as he struggles to upkeep his relationship: “These hours I’m working ain’t nearly enough/ And sometimes its like a bullet came and blasted me right of out of the blue/ But I’m doing my best to not let it get between me and you.” The dream-like synths and sparkling piano melodies help to keep the artist afloat, and the end result is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Following is “Lonely Town,” a song that continues the underlying stalker vibe of The Desired Effect. The lyrics are self-explanatory (“Now I’m standing outside your house/ And I’m wondering, Baby/ Do you hear the phone when I call?”), but the apparent creep factor is glazed over with soaring gospel-inspired vocals, a vibrant New Wave production base and a fun Auto-tuned moment.

The Desired Effect continues its nostalgic romp with the charming ditty that is “Still Want You” and the hip-shaking, rockabilly-inspired “Diggin’ Up The Heart,” but the album wraps up its wild joyride with one of the more vulnerable moments — “The Way It’s Always Been.” This closing track is where Flowers spirituality shines (Fun Fact: the singer is a member of the Mormon church). “…And hoping that He’s really got the power to save us from these sins / Everybody sitting around waiting for the sun to come again,” the artist sings as he reflects on the meaning of life while faint organs and lush harmonies amplify the song’s inquisitive theme. It is a somber moment that ties up the album’s package with a faded, torn bow.

Just two years ago, pop music belonged to the females (Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, etc.). But in 2015, the gender shift has become refreshingly apparent. For once, it is not all about the heavy sadness that Sam Smith has overwhelmed us all with. Acts like Jimmy Napes, Mark Ronson, Adam Lambert and now Brandon Flowers are providing the punch that was necessary to shake up the stagnant genre. The Desired Effect may only have just 10 tracks, but once the album is over you feel quite exhausted from its emotional roller-coaster. If that is meant to be the effect, then we’ll gladly stand in line to take the sonic ride once more.

Best Song That Wasn’t The Single: “I Can Change,” as the dangerously captivating themes would make the likes of Annie Lennox very proud.

Best Listened To When: You’re tirelessly dragging yourself through the dry Las Vegas desert in hopes of getting your lover back in your arms.

Idolator Score: 4/5

— Bianca Gracie

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