Brandon Flowers unleashes on his second solo album

Brandon Flowers plays the Bunkhouse.
Erik Kabik
Annie Zaleski

Three and a half stars

Brandon Flowers The Desired Effect

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers said that he was “holding things back” on 2010 solo debut Flamingo. That might explain why that record sounded so stilted, dragged down by an overuse of Vegas metaphors and overproduction. Flowers’ second solo effort, The Desired Effect, is a vast improvement: Although certainly meticulous—for that, thank co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has helped guide the flawless pop of Sky Ferreira, Haim and Vampire Weekend—it also contains some of the most effortless-sounding music of his career.

As always, Flowers mines inspiration from everything ’80s. The seductive “Can’t Deny My Love” is late-night Miami Vice disco-pop with synth stabs and soul-tinged backup vocals; “Lonely Town” boasts horn accents and gospel choir wails; “Diggin’ Up the Heart” sounds like Springsteen at a state fair, thanks to carousel-esque keyboards and hotrodding guitars; and subdued highlight “Between Me and You” features spidery piano from Bruce Hornsby and brute lyrical honesty: “There’s a power in letting go/I guess I didn’t want to let you know.” Another standout, “I Can Change,” even samples Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy,” a move that amplifies Flowers’ anguished vocal longing.

The Desired Effect’s lyrics are reflective and earnest. Songs dig up past emotional pain—covering religious uncertainty, broken romances and childhood loneliness—as if doing so will exorcise any lingering uncertainties. Mostly, that sincerity doesn’t feel cloying, although “Still Want You” is clunky, between its processed Pee Wee’s Playhouse synths, helium-voiced choir and strange sentiments (“Crime is on the rise/I still want you”). Yet this song is the exception rather than the rule, bearing out Flowers’ assertion to Rolling Stone that he “just want[s] to write the best thing I can and put it out right now.” Mission accomplished.

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