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Brandon Flowers
Flamingo Iain Moffat , September 3rd, 2010 10:28

From Beck to Bjork, from Chilly Gonzales to Charlie Simpson, from David Bowie to Dizzee Rascal... well, we could go on, but our point is that there's always been a valuable place in the musical landscape for a great contrarian, which is why we can entirely get behind Brandon Flowers' decision to launch himself as a solo artist with something this far removed from what we were expecting. However, expectations were based on three highly promising factors. Firstly, there was the way that 'Day & Age' dug The Killers so magnificently out of the rut of stadium tedium they'd appeared to fall irretrievably into. Secondly, Flowers appeared to spend a notable amount of time at The Brits last year in the vicinity of Lady Gaga (in her nascent days, admittedly, although one imagines she had plenty to teach even then). And, perhaps most excitingly of all, his sudden cheerleading for the Pet Shop Boys introduced a hitherto unseen effusiveness to his repertoire that felt guaranteed to inform whatever came next. In fact, if we may borrow a phrase from Neil and Chris, the disco potential of this record was enormous.

Well, so much for that. In actual fact, Flamingo sounds entirely as you'd expect if all you'd ever heard of his work was 'Crossfire', and what a puzzling return to the public eye that is, even beyond the fascinating torture porn elements of the video. The good news, of course, is that it finds our protagonist in perhaps the best vocal form of his career – on the "lay your body down" bits of the chorus, he even successfully makes an almost-Buckleyan clutch for the sublime. The middling news, meanwhile, is that, from a melodic standpoint at the very least, his long-established enthusiasm for Springsteen rears its head once again, although, in fairness, it does so to slightly more convincing effect than anything on Sam's Town managed. Unfortunately, however, even by the standards of someone who famously sang "are we human or are we dancer?", the lyrics have a slightly dashed-off feel and then some. "Heart and pain came pouring down / like hail, sleet and rain, yeah, they're handing it out," is bad enough, but by the time we reach the stuff about the Devil's fiery arrows we're practically in the realm of My First Slightly Goth Poem.

In fact, the primary problem with much of this record comes from the writing itself. One can appreciate that Flowers' beliefs are enormously important to him (indeed, they've arguably been the one constant in his time in the public eye), but this is his most concerted effort yet to reflect that in his music, what with hallelujahs here, chosen lands there, and allusions of prayer spattered throughout, and, while it's a bold effort, there's plenty in the way of prior work that proves what awkward bedfellows rock and religion can be if you can't apply the gravitas of a Nick Cave or the poetic flair of a Paddy McAloon, and, to be honest, there's a definite sense of overreach here. Moreover, when he's not in testifying mode, Flowers repeatedly attempts to mythologise his – and this'll be that Springsteen affection again – home town, rather bluntly on 'Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas', with a mixed-results-producing magical realism on 'Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts', and in confusingly unfocussed fashion on 'Playing With Fire' (the "charcoal veins" bit sort of works, but the "river of truth / fountain of youth" references come unusually unwelcomely from left field).

And yet, for all the rudimentary messages being spouted, this has been constructed as a terribly grown-up album, with an earnestness that even Annie Lennox might blanch at. That wistful, in-the-desert card that Flowers has played in the past is repeatedly utilised to an often uber-U2 degree here, with impossibly stately organ, pained steel guitar and even a hint of tambor soundtracking 'Only The Young', 'Hard Enough' (a duet with a should-know-better Jenny Lewis) coming across as a close cousin of Bon Jovi's 'Born To Be My Baby', and 'On The Floor' losing points galore for obviousness by introducing – oh yes – a choir midway through. In fact, it's only when things get a little less adult-oriented that it's even possible to catch sight of sparks of his previous vitality, such as the intriguing minimalism of harp-heavy finale 'Swallow It' or the way the opening of 'Magdalena' nods at OMD's 'Souvenir'.

Otherwise, Flamingo is an album horribly hamstrung by its ill-placed predilection for being A Very Important Thing Indeed, whereas what it actually is is a disinteresting folly from someone who's more than capable of full-blown pop excellence if only he'd content himself with biting that particular bullet. He's recovered from similar missteps before, of course, but we can only hope his bandmates steer a wiser course when they reconvene; meanwhile, what remains is an album that's all filler, no Killers.