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Brandon Flowers

Flamingo


[Island / Vertigo; 2010]



By ; September 24, 2010 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

It wasn’t until I’d started to become familiar with Flamingo that I read that it was apparently set to be the next record from The Killers. And I found this odd because Brandon Flowers’ solo album struck me as something else; not a huge digression from what we associate Flowers with but not something that reeked of The Killers staling pop sensibilities. If anything Flamingo seems to be a sort of love-letter for Flowers, paying tribute to all the styles he’s likely grown up with and that have subsequently influenced him. The obvious fondness’s are there (Springsteen, U2, etc.) and are apparent to anyone, ready to be pointed out but there are also a few surprising homages.

Sometimes they aren’t at all bad such as the plinky, almost Kraftwerk-like breaks of “Only The Young.” On “Magdalena” a flamenco lilt helps add interest as does the cheery wordless chorus but the whole thing emits a bit too much positivity, especially when it hits the coda and a huge backing chorus of Flowers spreads across the song. And then there’s “Playing With Fire” which already sounds like some unreleased Dire Straits track from the title alone. Things begin relatively subdued (a word I never thought I’d associate with Flowers) as a steady build of guitars and patient drums get into a flow. Then the chorus comes which, as expected, increases the volume and pace of the song but while Flowers is singing the title of the track from nowhere comes this wanky guitar solo, piercing your ears. And what’s confusing is that after the first chorus it just fades right back into the background for the rest of the song making you question on first listen if it actually ever happened. It’s like some Mark Knopfler wannabe got a little too carried away with his part in the song and changed the leveling on the song for a joke. And it’s a shame that the song is defined by this odd moment as the rest is a pleasant and well paced number that doesn’t even feeling overlong or like it dragging despite being nearly six minutes long.

And that sort of goes for the rest of the album: despite the likely preconceptions you might muster up, Flamingo sound surprisingly modest. Okay, perhaps modest isn’t quite the right word when you consider the first track is a huge stadium bound anthem called “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” but it’s definitely not as overtly seeping of fabulousness and pretension as you might think. After the death of his mother at the start of this year it’s easy to read many of the lyrics as referential. And his multiple references to the bible only seem to further the idea that he’s looking for solace.

But as much as Flowers is welcome to make an album fully dedicated to his mother, he plays it safe on Flamingo and sticks to the big issues and with what he knows: love, gambling and lost youth. And as the popularity of singles like “Mr Brightside” and “When You Were Young” have shown, Flowers knows how to deliver. Lead single “Crossfire” is a solid enough pop song to begin with going from riff to riff and strength to strength as it builds. But when the “Lay your body down” part of the chorus hits with Flowers utilizing his falsetto to best of his ability, it’s pretty much invincible. Earlier mentioned “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” might as well be Flowers’ own personal soundtrack but with its scene setting lyrics and thrilling “The house will always win” climax, it might as well function as Las Vegas’ own welcoming track for visiting tourists. Elsewhere on “Hard Enough” he benefits from the help of Jenny Lewis on backing vocals to help add a sort of weight to his lyrics about the strains of a relationship, like they are both picturesquely singing beside some rainy window in separate far off places.

The gambling metaphors and references are somewhat welcome, adding a little interest and a familiar sense of location but when he throws them into the mix of a love song it can be a little overbearing. “Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts” is huge and catchy but it also becomes tiring after a few too many listens. As much as you have to admire Flowers for throwing all his energy into these songs the problem is that it also makes the missteps all the more obvious. Boppy ’80s country pop song (more terms I never thought I’d bring together) “Was It Something I Said?” is quirky but grating, exuding a kind of undeserved smugness. “Swallow It” tries to create some texture with pizzicato violin but just turns into another generic and forgettable sounding track with Flowers’ name beside it while “On The Floor” is a tuneless track built around a single swell of voices that serves as another reminder that Flowers shouldn’t work with choirs of any sort.

But for all these unrewarding tracks there is still enjoyment to be taken from Flamingo. It’s hard to listen through and not find something that indents its way into your mind and not be at least kind of awkwardly charmed by the energy Flowers puts into his work. Perhaps this is just a vent of sorts for him as the rest of the band look to prolong their hiatus. Come final track “Swallow It” he even seems to make a cheeky reference to them: “You’re a performer/Just take your time/ But not too much time.” Considering Day & Age ended up somewhat scattershot it might be ideal for Flowers to take some more of his own advice before rushing back to the studio with his band; “Slow down/ baby you’re not ready/ Take the time to evolve.” If he paces himself right Flowers might just end up surprising us even more.


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