Did anyone think this was a good idea? Well, for a minute I did. I thought that maybe Brandon Flowers would regain his mojo on a solo album, stripping down the instrumentation of The Killers to leave his impressive voice to do some heavy lifting. I liked the idea that Flowers was writing an album about Las Vegas, thinking that he might need a break from the rest of the band to tell his own story. I envisioned a more exposed Flowers, the vulnerable intensity of his vocals blossoming in a sparse environment. If that type of album – an honest, soulful, personal record from a great singer with an ear for catchy melodies – were the outcome, then yeah, a Brandon Flowers solo album would be a great idea.
Unfortunately, Flamingo is essentially the opposite of that idea. Lyrically, it’s pomposity disguised underneath a humble façade. Musically, it’s the reverse – trite ideas cloaked in shimmering, reverb-heavy production. Nearly every song on Flamingo feels bloated, and the redeeming moments are few and far between. Themes and symbols are hammered into the ground without mercy. A duet with Jenny Lewis is horribly mismanaged, her wonderful voice barely audible underneath Flowers in the mix. The album’s final track, “Swallow It,” is perhaps the worst song I’ve heard all year.
Recorded under the supervision of superproducers Daniel Lanois, Stuart Price, and Brendan O’Brien, Flamingo sounds like a weak derivative of those knob twiddlers’ previous work – U2 meets Keane meets Bruce Springsteen. If that sounds like something you might enjoy, let me assure that it is not. Flowers fails to find the spark that drove those artists – the composure of U2, the gentle subtlety of Keane, the gruff edge of the Boss. Instead, we’re left with high-gloss, watered-down songs with neither strong ideas nor strong execution.
The lead track, “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas,” is a flipped-on-its-head “Empire State of Mind” for that city of sin, decrying the heat, the desolation, the loss of hope. In reality, though, the song is far closer to the city’s image than Flowers would like to admit – full of bombast and bright lights, synthetic orchestration hiding the fact that the song just doesn’t have any soul. “Didn’t anybody tell you the house will always win?” Flowers asks, pointing out that the game is rigged. Well your game is rigged too, Brandon – dress any melody up with this slowly swelling hallelujah instrumentation and you can get people to tap their feet. At the end of the night, though, this showtune has about as much value as a bum hand in blackjack.
The rest of the album isn’t much better, stuffed full of hackneyed phrases and trite images. A man in a lonely hotel room, a woman dancing on the moon, long highways, stormy skies, and broken hearts. There’s hardly any depth to these tunes, and the fact that Flowers’ voice is basically the only interesting sonic focus on the album makes it hard to ignore the lyrics. It’s the same, the same, the same. Tinny drums, reverent strings, predictable melodies and boring bridges. I wish I could write more about the songs on the album, but that pretty much covers all of Flamingo’s variation and diversity. It’s a one-note record, and that note isn’t particularly engaging.
Honestly, I’m not sure Flowers can avoid the melodrama. For better or for worse – scratch that, definitely for worse – Flowers’ voice has lost the edge that drove The Killers’ best songs. His songwriting has never been a strength (although almost every Killers song boasts more depth than these), and he is stuck playing the hand that he’s been dealt. But he plays it poorly, trying to hide his weaknesses under grandiose moments, rather than working around them. Even when he tends toward self-effacing subjects, he floats dangerously close to Coldplay’s self-importance. The result is a puff-piece of an album that feels cheap, sounds cheap, and is cheap. Flamingo is a showman inviting you to look behind the curtain, but when you do, there’s not much there. Words by Chris Barth.
45 — [Rating Scale]