Artist: Brandon Flowers
Our Verdict: 4/5
Release date: September 3rd, 2010
Find it at: Amazon
Review by: Graeme Blackwell
“Essentially, 40 minutes of unadulterated pop brilliance from the frontman of The Killers.”
The mediocre reviews that have met the release of Brandon Flowers’ solo debut over the last few weeks have been utterly baffling. It is as if there has been a consensus among music journalists to damn Flamingo with feint praise, all of the copy having been patch-worked together from the same basic criticisms.
“Disappointing solo debut from the frontman of the squillion selling Killers…”
“This starts well, but sadly it is all down hill after that…”
“The albums three producers create a gloopy mix of 80’s soft rock…”
“The choruses lack the urgency of The Killers…”
“The gambling metaphors and religious images quickly irritate…”
“Some arrangements are unimaginative and there’s a feeling of blandness…”
“Flowers has got overexcited with his bible and the proliferation of gambling metaphors results in serious imagery fatigue…”
“What we have here is a Killers record made without the Killers that sounds like The Killers and is almost as good as The Killers, but not quite…”
Whilst there is always the argument that so many people can’t be wrong, I’m going out on a limb to tell you that they are. There is no doubt in my mind that if this album had been recorded by a man with the surname Springsteen, the exact same critics would be hailing it as a continuation of The Boss’ current purple patch.
One of the critics quoted above was right about one thing. The album does start well. Very well. The marshalling drums of “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” – so redolent of the Tamla Motown songbook – start a run of strong, tuneful songs with beautifully crafted melodies. The lyric, “…Didn’t nobody tell you / the house will always win…”, could be straight out of, yes, Springsteen’s own Atlantic City.
From there it is on to the perfectly formed “Only The Young”. The song’s synth washes, simple drum pattern and plucked guitar lines will seep in to your brain and take up residence in much the same way as The Killers own “Read My Mind”.
Jenny Lewis then pops up for a duet in the form of “Hard Enough”. “Some people think that it’s best to refrain from the conventions of old-fashioned love,” sings Flowers. “Their hearts are filled with holes and emptiness, they tell themselves that they’re too young to settle down.” The criticisms of bland meaninglessness and confusion could be swept aside with that one line alone.
It is with the triumvirate of “Was It Something I Said”, “Magdalena” and first single “Crossfire” however that this album finally seals itself as something special. The squelchy bassline of “Was It Something…” does, shock-horror, sound akin to upbeat pop tracks from ‘the decade that fashion forgot.’ But it’s tale of love gone awry, layered with Byrdsian jangle and lyrics of blue collar grafting with “…a job at The Nugget…” lift it immeasurably.
“Magdalena” is the finest song in a fine collection. Flowers’ way with an instantly memorable tune and the songs reverb-soaked “woah-oh” refrain cement themselves within the first twenty seconds. And again, there is a clear manifesto here. Bible-thumping? Far from it. Brandon may make no attempt to hide his Mormon faith, but even in it’s depiction of a spiritual pilgrimage from Nogales to Magdelena, the song sings hopefully of forgiveness, love and redemption, not the fiery furnaces of sinners going to hell. “Please don’t tell me I can’t make it / It ain’t going to do me any good / Please don’t offer me your modern methods / I’m fixin’ to carve this out of wood,” pleads Flowers, just before “prodigal sons and wayward daughters” pop up a short time later. “I know I can be forgiven / In the broken heart of Mexico” he concludes.
All of which segues beautifully into anthemic single, “Crossfire”. Those jangly guitars rear their heads again to great effect as a funky bassline propels the thing along mid-tempo. And yes, here’s that biblical imagery again. “We’re caught in a crossfire / Between heaven and hell.” Tiresome? Hardly. It provides a strong lyrical backbone that would be heralded as ‘thematic coherence’ had this album been recorded by anyone else.
Ultimately Flamingo does seem slightly out-of-time. It is a fully realised album in the age of digital downloading where individual songs are king. It has a strong spiritual outlook in the age of scientific, empirical thinking. This, combined with Flowers air of preening and flamboyance could also make the album inherently ‘uncool’. But it would be a great shame to allow these points to stand in the way of recognition of an album that feels essentially like 40 minutes of unadulterated pop brilliance. “Our dreams will break the boundaries of our fear” sings Flowers during the closing lines of “Crossfire”. Quite.