The cover of The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers’ sophomore solo record The Desired Effect looks like a relic. The close-up photo of Flowers, his italicized name, and the stylized font of the title suggest this album comes from a different era; it looks like it should be an 80s classic ready for rediscovery in crates slotted between used Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby LPs, dog-eared from years of wear and tear. The Desired Effect also sounds like an 80s relic, but in the best way possible.
Produced by Ariel Rechtshaid, Flowers’ album doesn’t stray drastically from the blueprint of his day job with the Killers, but it sure does expand his sonic template. While all of the Killers’ releases post-Hot Fuss seem preoccupied with melding peak U2 and arena Springsteen posturing for the 2000s, The Desired Effect broadens its scope to include other 80s magnates like Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, and Phil Collins. Actually, the album doesn’t just recuperate 80s production techniques, it revels in them. Singles “Can’t Deny My Love” and “Lonely Town” are full of synth jabs and uppercuts—hell, “I Can Change” not only features Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant on backing vocals, but also samples Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” to great, thrilling effect.
Like the Killers’ debut, The Desired Effect has an incredible and breathless first side (if we continue with the LP analogy), that it’s only natural the back half of the album can’t match up. Yet, even side B filler tracks like “Never Get You Right” sound great, despite not really having really memorable hooks, thanks to Rechtshaid’s bag tricks.
This is Flowers’ best and most consistent record since the Killers’ Sam’s Town, almost a decade ago. Lyrically, he may still steal clichéd moves from rock’s old guard, but at least he’s learning how to craft them in his own image: “Lonely Town” borrows nostalgic Americana imagery from the Boss—working overtime, hope being out of reach—but brings in imagery of his own with the impeccable hook “spinnin’ like a Gravitron when I was just a kid.” The song is actually the album’s masterstroke, using these ideas to position it as an unrequited love song and building to a monumental chorus that suggests perhaps something more sinister like the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”
The Desired Effect is a pretty great and engaging pop record, the kind that are hard to come by in the 2010s. It easily trumps its predecessor, 2010’s Flamingo, and proves itself more essential than the Killers’ Day & Age and Battle Born that I hope it doesn’t end up in the discount bin.