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September 1, 2014

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CD review: Brandon Flowers ‘Flamingo’

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Brandon Flowers, "Flamingo"

Though its very existence has Killers fans worried their favorite band is finished, Brandon Flowers' solo debut actually plays like a logical progression from 2008 Killers album Day & Age. Flamingo is an homage to the singer's frosty synth-pop idols like Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys, with a heavy debt, also, to the atmospheric electro-rock of latter-day U2. A gospel choir blooms in "On the Floor," while digitally iced piano droplets and thumping-heartbeat programming drive "Hard Enough," a catchy duet featuring (and co-written by) one-time Vegas resident Jenny Lewis.

Stuart Price, who helped engineer Age, teams with Flowers and Daniel Lanois in the production chairs this time. (Rock radio demigod Brendan O'Brien also produced three tracks, including the lead single, "Crossfire.") Lanois' influence — particularly his association with U2's latest album, No Line on the Horizon — looms large on Flamingo, from the album's Edge-like guitar jags to Flowers' affected falsetto.

Flamingo's lyrics also negatively recall Horizon, in that they look for depth in trite topics and ideas. References to Vegas feel especially contrived. "Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts" employs an awkward poker metaphor: "You did a fine job of hiding/That crooked ace up your sleeve/You doubled down my direction." As an orchestra swells like fireworks on "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas," Flowers asks, "Didn't nobody tell you the house will always win?" While meant to be dramatic, the string of images simply sounds clichéd.

The same problem mars "Playing With Fire." Inebriated pedal-steel and Flowers' evocative, alley-cat vocal yowls are an interesting departure, but attempting to find religious significance in ridiculous lines such as "The holy fountain of youth has been reduced to a drip" is difficult.

Flamingo closes with its best track, the minimalist "Swallow It." Like David Bowie masquerading as a shady circus ringleader, Flowers speak-sings about sudden stardom, pleading with someone to "slow down" and "just take your time/But not too much time." It's a thinly veiled commentary on the fame hamster-wheel — and the album's most human moment. For all of its pristine synth-pop and skyscraping choruses, Flamingo is all surface intensity; beneath the grandiose metaphors lies little personality or emotional resonance. More reason for Killers fans to hope for a reunion.

— Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly

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