You know when you head into Shake and are immediately confronted with a list of all your favourite foodstuffs that can be made into milkshake form? Your heart swells and saliva glands salivate, ready for this sumptuous treat about to be delivered in a liquid state.
‘We are living in the future’ your brain insists as pert lips quivering with anticipation catch the end of the straw. And then… disappointment. Although the composite ingredients of milk, ice cream and Oreos/Ferrero Roches/Haribo/old recipe Calpol (delete as desired) should produce something marvellous, the end result is a mildly saccharine mess that makes your mouth dry and leaves sugary deposits in the crevasses of your cracked lips. If you went really crazy and tried the After Eight option then you’ll complain about the £3.20 you wasted all the way to Greggs. Anyway, this is kind of what Brandon Flowers solo career is like: all the right ingredients with too much artificial sweetener.
And the ingredients are right there on the packet to see, demonstrated by The Desired Effect’s tongue in cheek Bowie/Elvis referencing cover. Even though it’s tacky to evaluate the artistic merit of a musician solely through comparisons to other musicians, it’s hard to avoid overcontextualising the music of Mr Flowers, a man who never goes out in a shoulder-padded jacket with fewer than a dozen influences on his sleeve. Without his much discussed obsession with Bruce Springsteen The Killers could not have crafted the seminal Sam’s Town, but this same fixation led to the forgettable Battle Born, a Boss tribute album in all but name. It comes as no surprise that tracks with names such as ‘Lonely Town’ and ‘Digging Up The (Hungry?) Heart’ are blue collar ballads laboriously seeking the kind of effortlessness that only Bruce can produce. Elsewhere on the album there are shout-outs to other A-List American songwriters whose solo careers Brandon Flowers would dearly love to emulate. The decent ballad ‘Never Get You Right’ smacks of mid-career Peter Gabriel, while on opener ‘Dreams Come True’ Flowers channels Paul Simon admirably over a euphoric horn section cribbed straight from Dandy Warhols’ ‘All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey’.
Brandon’s status as a band-bandit extraordinaire is compounded by his bizarre decision to extensively sample Bronksi Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ on ‘I Can Change’ (written with a little help from fellow musical magpie and part-time Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant). I mean, this is probably the best song on the album and rivals Frank Ocean’s Eagles’ sampling ‘American Wedding’ as the greatest potential karaoke-wrecker on record. But it does highlight the problem with a Killers-less Brandon: he just loves other people’s music too much. Whether it’s the WTF moment in ‘Lonely Town’ when he flicks on the Akon vocoder for a bizarre autotuned breakdown only a Mormon could consider post-modern, or the disco-filtered Fleetwood Mac-attack of ‘Can’t Deny My Love’, there is so little new or original on this album that it beggars belief that this man helped define a musical generation with ‘Hot Fuss’ back in 2004. The glaring exception to this criticism is the occasionally genius lyricism wrung out in a typically spiritual style. “I’ll overcome the dark just like the dead, the lame, the Leper and the blind, Like Lazarus or the mother of Peter’s wife” he promises, choirboy voice laced with hope (and faith, charity and a little moral rectitude thrown in for good measure). It’s hard to hate an album made with such goodwill, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the only darkness Brandon Flowers really needs to overcome is his own blind satisfaction with sweet insipidity. 5/10