ALBUM: The Desired Effect
ARTIST: Brandon Flowers
Album release date: July 17, 2015
Shoulderpads and Sincerity
Who is Brandon Flowers? Does my asking you, “Are we human? Or are we dancers? ” elucidate you? The 33-year old member of the band The Killers released his second solo effort, The Desired Effect, in Spring of 2015: and it is a sparkly, over-the-top, heavily back-lit and relentlessly synthesized homage to 80’s pop. Oh yes.
The album takes elements unabashedly from the bands who epitomized the 80s pop era: Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, some U2, a dash of Bowie, etc. It is lushly produced and arranged, and most of the songs come off sounding flawless in their structure, instrumentation, and extravagance. Flowers’ voice is well at-home within the genre, and one can almost forgive him for his rather, shall we say, flagrant self-confidence and heavy-handedness (which comes through lyrically). But hey: if you’re going to pull out all the stops – as in, play a reed flute, wear shoulder pads and give everyone a baby unicorn – you might as well do it with confidence.
The Perfect 80s Songwriting Asthetic
Thematically, the album is less concerned about philosophizing than it is about hitting you over the head with the sheer audacity and scope of the sonic landscape. Can’t Deny My Love very intensely expresses the undying devotion of true love (conjuring up either the verse Stern as death is love, relentless as the netherworld is devotion or an image of Heathcliff straggling about menacingly, depending on your psychology). The prototypical drum-beat chugs away in the background, and an electric guitar gurgles out its warped notes like a kangaroo hopping on a gimpy leg while Flowers sings, You’re not gonna, not gonna deny; no you’re not gonna, not gonna deny my love. You can run to the hillside… but you’re not gonna, not gonna deny…
The song “I Can Change” feels ballad-like initially, starting with gentle piano; but as it gains momentum Flowers’ words of commitment and readiness to change wail out brightly while a Bronski Beat propels things forward(at one point, he plain-speaks: every song of devotion needs a line or two of smoldering encouragement). My favorite song on the album, “Still Want You”, is delightful in all aspects: its rhythm, its quirkiness, its lyrical content, its buoyancy and its weird keyboard riff. Time is passing by – still want you. Crime is on the rise – still want you. Climate change and debt – still want you. Nuclear distress – still want you. It’s equal-parts schlock and poetry: the perfect 80s pop songwriting asthetic. “Between Me and You” is a slower tune that shows off Flowers’ rich, angled voice, soaked as it is in a comfortable foot-bath composed of textures, guitar doodles, warm synth sounds, and bubbly keyboard. None of these songs pose compelling questions or answers to life’s conundrums; rather they come off sounding like the jottings of a fellow who probably thinks himself somewhat profound, yet tender and humble(…can we forgive the pop-star for being a quasi-Diva?).
Flowers’ is paying homage to the pop greats who have gone before him, and he surely does them proud. The massive choruses, unfettered euphoria and heavy-handed sparkliness of the whole ordeal reveal a mild-mannered man with an impressive flair for the dramatic and a penchant for combining elements with all the precision and predictability of an A+ bio student. If you dig the 80s and if you’re into unabashedly head-banging at redlights, then you’ll find this album highly enjoyable and uplifting. It is what it is, no more and no less, and I’m glad Mr. Flowers pulled it off triumphantly.