Brandon Flowers – Flamingo

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Solo albums are a tricky thing.  Sometimes the artist in question sounds exactly the same performing alone as with a band (what exactly is the difference between the music of the Dave Matthews Band and Dave Matthews?).  Sometimes, the artist releases something totally different, the kind of music one assumes he or she had wanted to make all along.  This can have mixed results – usually one will respond with either “oh, that’s interesting”  (Jenny Lewis’ first solo album) or “oh, that’s gross” (Jenny Lewis’ second solo album).  Either way, the shadow of the original band is almost always there, looming and begging for comparison like NBC begs for viewers.

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In that respect, friends, my review of Flamingo, the solo debut from Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, will not disappoint.  Flowers has indicated that the songs on this album were written for his band but he ultimately decided to try them a different way, so one cannot really consider this album without considering the album that might have been.

Before we get into the meat of the disc, I have to say (and I know I’ll catch some flack for this) that the Killers are one of my very favorite American rock bands.  I think Sam’s Town is a modern masterpiece, the kind of Americana album that few besides Boss Springsteen can write.  Since that record came out, I’ve had high expectations for everything the group has done, and those expectations have mostly not been met.  The fact that Flamingo is not technically a Killers album did temper my expectations a little, but I still had high hopes.

Judging by the above grade, you can probably tell that I don’t believe Flamingo delivers on those hopes.  This may be perhaps the most obvious bit of criticism I could give here but I’m gonna say it anyway:  Flamingo sounds like a Killers album without the Killers.  I mean, the voice is still there but the instrumentation, while being fairly similar in some respects, is totally different.  This is a synth-heavy album, made more so by the fact that the production washes out most of the rock instruments, if they’re even present at all.  Even on a track like “Human”, a very synth-heavy tune from Day & Age, band guitarist Dave Keuning has something to do, and that something makes the Killers sound like a rock band.  Not that an album has to rock to be good, mind you, but it seems like the music of Flamingo was created by merely sucking all the rock out of a Killers song – replace the dirty guitars with synth strings and there ya go.

This is especially jarring because thematically Flamingo is a Killers record through-and-through.  Even the naming scheme from Sam’s Town is borrowed, although this time Mr. Flowers has moved to a casino on the strip, which is nice.  Melodically the songs are reminiscent of Sam’s Town and Day & Age era Killers (nothing of Hot Fuss remains), and lyrically this album is straight-up a companion piece to the former.  It also feels very, very similar to Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight, another album about the seedy underside of Las Vegas.  Almost the only difference between that record and Flamingo is that the jacket of Flowers’ disc does not feature any pictures of him in a cocktail dress, much to the chagrin of his female fans, I’m sure.

Since this is the third time I’ve mentioned Jenny Lewis or her band, let’s get into the highlights of the disc, one of which is “Hard Enough,” the duet between Jenny and Brandon.  It’s got a pretty melody and is definitely worthy of an iPod mix or two.  The album features a couple pretty good high-energy pop songs in “Magdalena” and “Crossfire,” which have the distinction of being produced by Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Springsteen).  Probably the best song on the disc, in my opinion, is “Crossfire,” also the lead single.  It’s got a neat Bruce Hornsby vibe to it (and the more I listen to the song, the more I’m convinced it’s a rewrite of Hornsby’s collaboration with Don Henley, “The End of The Innocence”).  However, all of these songs (except maybe “Crossfire”) still suffer from basically being stripped-down Killers songs.  That might fly on MTV Unplugged, but on a studio record, I just don’t think it works.

If you are a Killers completist, I think that this is probably a necessary album for your collection, though I say that with resignation. Further, if the best recommendation I can give for something is “it’s vaguely of interest to a popular band’s fanatics,” well, that should be a pretty good sign of how most normal people will look at this record.

PS – as a fun game for the comments, what are your favorite / least favorite solo albums?

tags: brandon flowers, flamingo, killers

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  • http://seankealey.net Noah Nickels

    One of my favorite solo albums in recent memory is Julian Casablancas’ from last year. It had just enough strokes and just enough originality. Jonsi’s solo effort this year is also fantastic.

  • http://andrewstamm.com Spaceman Spiff

    I’ve really been digging Kele Okereke’s (from Bloc Party) solo album this year…

  • http://www.myspace.com/newtestleopard Matt Heckler

    Way back machine, but George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” Roger Waters’ (of Pink Floyd) “The Pros and Cons of Hitch hiking,” and pretty much everything Elliott Smith ever did.

  • http://nerdynothings.com Rebel Rikki

    Ah, Matt, mentioning Elliott Smith brings up an interesting point that I didn’t have time to address — every once in awhile, the opposite of what I described in the first paragraph will happen and a solo career will obscure/eclipse the original band, sometimes almost totally. I think Elliott Smith is a great example of that. If you think about it, even someone like Michael Jackson had a bunch of “solo albums,” though I don’t think many people would stack any Jackson 5 album up against “Thriller,” “Bad,” or “Off the Wall.”

  • http://www.ecscards.co.uk Thad Chanthaumlsa

    Hey I am Michael Jacksons hugest addict. I collect all the stuff I can concerning Michael

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