Three years after the last Killers album, 2012's underwhelming Battle Born, Flowers has returned without his wildly successful band, and instead with a wildly ambitious sophomore solo album. Co-produced by current tastemaker Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, Sky Ferreira, Haim), The Desired Effect is the arena-ready, 1980s-masked pop album Flowers has always been expected to make.
As true as it sounds to the era of choice, Flowers didn't just simply polish up his synthesizer; he's comprehensively studied his heroes and brought his grandest pop fantasies to life. Lyrically, he's focused, concentrating on the darker side of Vegas, but with Rechtshaid in his corner, he's able to experiment, jumping from the Nile Rodgers-inspired groove of "Can't Deny My Love" to the honky-tonkin' "Diggin' Up the Heart," to the pulsating "I Can Change," which uses a sample of Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy."
The Desired Effect's list of collaborators is long — Danielle Haim, Neil Tennant, Joey Waronker, Angel Deradoorian, Tony Levin and the Killers' own Ronnie Vannucci Jr. — but they act as a cast of session players; only the appearance of Bruce Hornsby's signature piano playing on "Between You and Me" and "Never Get You Right" really stand out as an obvious contribution. And boy, is it ever obvious. Who knew Hornsby was such an influence?
On The Desired Effect, Flowers aims to be loose and have some fun, but he also sounds more focused than ever. Flowers has spoken of a desire to write an album full of singles, and these songs almost reach that goal. Certainly, he's come closer here than the Killers ever have.
If this isn't Brandon Flowers maximizing his potential as a songwriter, producer and artist, then we just haven't heard it from him yet. For now though, The Desired Effect is the best thing he's given us. (Island)