Review Summary: A sound & consistent Killers-like solo debut that is anything but killer.
Most things are obvious in retrospect. Looking back, it is easy to determine whether or not you should have had that last drink, dated that girl/guy, or drafted a running back instead of a quarterback as your fantasy football first pick. At a specific point in time however, some things are not so easy to identify. For instance; when Las Vegas quartet The Killers broke on to the scene in 2004 with their catchy brand of new-wave pop, lead vocalist Brandon Flowers appeared to be the least likely front-man to ever go solo. Raised a Mormon, the then 23 year old singer practically had to be coaxed into taking on the lead role for the band, his inability to smile and genuinely awkward demeanor struggling to answer even the simplest of questions put to him. Those that were close to him knew of the charisma that lay underneath however, and as time passed, eccentricity turned to ambition… Dare we ever forget Flower’s infamous “one of the best albums in the past twenty years” quote in reference to his band’s second album ‘Sam’s Town’.
So here we are six years later with the release of a Brandon Flowers solo album. In retrospect, its existence was an odds-on inevitability that could have bankrupted a Vegas bookie. Yet, reports suggest that ‘Flamingo’ did not come about as an alternative outlet for the vocalist, rather a testament to his workaholic nature. Listening to the album, those reports ring true since ‘Flamingo’ does not depart too significantly from The Killers discography, grabbing bits and pieces from each of their three studio albums. Laying the conceptual foundation of the LP (Flamingo refers to the name of a Las Vegas casino & road), the clichéd and wordy lyrics of theatrically satisfying opener ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ could have opened ‘Sam’s Town’, the dated – but catchy – new-wave pop of ‘Was It Something I Said?’ would have fit perfectly on ‘Hot Fuss’, while the Lou Reed inspired sub 3 minute closer ‘Swallow It’ is weird enough to have felt at home on the polarizing ‘Day & Age’.
Unfortunately, ‘Flamingo’ comes off as anything but a ‘Greatest Hits’ package, simply because there are no hits as such. Bass-driven lead single ‘Crossfire’ is the highlight, yet even it required Charlize Theron and some ninjas to keep people interested for long enough to allow its subtle hooks and Flowers’ gorgeous falsetto to endear. The vaguely afro-pop harmonies of ‘Only the Young’ got the gig as second single, although most may feel that energetic radio-rocker Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts (containing more gambling metaphors than you can a roll a dice at) would have been a better choice. Alternatively, ‘Flamingo’ does not surprise with anything significantly new. The Americana theme begun on ‘Sam’s Town’ does lead to gospel-drenched ballad ‘On The Floor’ and some twangy slide guitar filled alt-country moments - six minute confessional ‘Playing With Fire’ and a duet with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis on ‘Hard Enough’ - yet nothing really wows and it is all unlikely to have you coming back in six months time.
What ultimately holds ‘Flamingo’ together is its consistency; a trait which is not exactly synonymous with The Killers. It could be argued that there is not a single bad song included amongst its ten tracks (although it pays not to closely inspect the four bonus cuts included on the Deluxe Edition of the LP) and all are in some way catchy. It makes for a sound and interesting listen, but one which still leaves listeners a little disappointed. It could be that more should be expected of an album containing a range of producers as successful as Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie Minogue), Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan) & Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam), or maybe the constantly tame laid-back pacing eventually takes its toll. The missing ingredient could in fact be Flowers’ three band-mates, who may somehow subliminally guide their charismatic front-man to a more immediate sound. Whatever is lacking; it does not derail ‘Flamingo’, it just makes it anything but killer.
Recommended Tracks: Crossfire, Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts & Hard Enough.
"Davey Boy Thanks Amanda. I was actually just reading your Sam's Town review yesterday. If you have yet to hear this album, you'll like it to some extent, but it's a 3.5 at the very best."
I'm sure I'll like it, I've liked all the Killers stuff to varying extents and while "Crossfire" didn't knock my socks off it was still right up my alley. Still, I'm a little bit frustrated with artists like Flowers settling for competent material when their ambitions and (imo) talent demand so much more. I want the Killers to actually release the album of the decade, not just claim they have.
The thing I don't really get from your review, is this at all bombastic? You say it has "tame laid-back pacing" but maybe what's it's missing is more pomposity, not less. A song like "My List" is boring as shit but tame and laid-back, something like "the River is Wild" or "When You Were Young" are so grossly overblown and brazen that you admire them. I guess I can't really comment until I've heard more than the lead single.
Only the Young and Crossfire were the highlights on my first go through, need to listen to again but I got some much on my plate trying to catch up with all the new stuff and 2010 stuff I've skipped this year.
Amanda, I feel very similarly to you about The Killers discography thus far. And ditto on the frustration of Flowers/The Killers releasing a genuine classic... It's in them. Hence my almost questioning uncertainty over the disappointment in my concluding paragraph.
As for your "bombastic" question, it's here in fits & bursts. It definitely exists on the opener (I used the word "theatrical") and is laced throughout the entire final half.
BTW, I also disliked 'My List'... & with this being his/their most consistent release to daye, I have to wonder if Flowers has not taken the "front-loading/inconsistent" criticism of 'Hot Fuss' to heart & cannot let it go.
As much as I love The Killers, nothing here really grabbed me. It's good in places (the last half of Only The Young, the first half of Playing With Fire), but overall it's rather dull. None of the energy that characterized a lot of The Killers best tracks.
Hmm, I'm unsure if your comment is just a throwaway one, but I can't say this album sounded like I expected it to. I thought he'd really stretch himself into that bombastic territory he has done previously (whether it be for better or worse). I mean, he doesn't get kidnapped by aliens on this.