Going it alone in the music world can be a complicated affair when you haven't quit your day job yet, but Brandon Flowers of the Killers has made an impressive effort in his first solo attempt.
Brandon Flowers: Flamingo
Going it alone in the music world can be a complicated affair when you haven't quit your day job yet. Kick-off a solo bid with too familiar a sound and you risk upstaging the band that helped get you where you are today. That's why many indie frontmen, from the Strokes' Julian Casablancas to Radiohead's Thom Yorke, ditch their guitars and step into the realm of electronic music for their debut solo releases - crafting songs that show-off their ingenuity, rather than challenging the hit-making potential of their bands. But nobody told Brandon Flowers that.
With his album Flamingo, the Killers frontman has embarked on a solo career with his sights fixed firmly on the charts. Is it enough to give his bandmates reason to feel nervous about the group's future? Maybe. The record takes its cues from some of the biggest artists of the past 30 years: most notably U2, Bruce Springsteen and? The Killers. Indeed, the scale of Flowers' ambition can be illustrated by his pick of producers; Daniel Lanois, Brendan O'Brien and Stuart Price - the very men who helped the aforementioned artists forge some of their biggest releases to date. So much for the low-fi releases that many of Flowers' contemporaries pin their solo hopes upon.
The lead single, Crossfire, kicks-off subtly enough, with a 4/4 beat, atmospheric keys and a meandering bass line, before Flowers interjects with a slow, smouldering melody. But he doesn't hold back for long, the song quickly erupts into something deserving of Bono's trademark falsetto, particularly when its "lay your body down/lay your body down/lay your body" refrain arrives. But alongside the stadium-sized ballads, the album is littered with the faded ephemera of Americana. After the sound of crickets and the hum of distant freeways, which provide Flamingo's opening seconds, the song Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas features a woozy Eagles guitar hum and lyrics about "dreamers, harlots and sin" in Flowers' home city, where "the house will always win".
In many ways, the album recaps the various stages of The Killers' hugely successful career. Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts recreates a thumping hunger of early hit Mr Brightside, although not as well. Magdalena is reminiscent of the Springsteen-lite songwriting of the group's second effort, Sam's Town, while Only the Young could have appeared on their last release, Day & Age. And therein lies the problem. While Flowers does a fine job of emulating the best achievements of his own group and his musical heroes, the album never moves beyond skilful mimicry.
Killers fans are unlikely to begrudge the singer's choice to stick with a winning formula, but anyone with existing reservations about the band is likely to have those misgivings reinforced. Flowers' strained vocals and frequently clunky and overpoweringly sincere lyrics are at the forefront of Flamingo, and even production this rich can't make-up for that. But the album, with its huge choruses and time-tested atmospherics, marks the beginning of a solo career that seems destined to succeed. Whether or not this means the Killers are dead in the water is anyone's guess, but Flowers certainly isn't acting like a man in mourning.
U2 - The Joshua Tree (1986) The band's landmark fifth album, also produced by Daniel Lanois, was Bono's attempt to "dismantle the mythology of America" and in the words of Rolling Stone magazine, transformed the band "from heroes to superstars". Now the gold standard for all aspiring writers of emotionally driven rock anthems. Bruce Springsteen - The Rising (2002) Inspired by the events of 9/11, Springsteen entered the studio for the first time in seven years - reuniting with the E-Street Band for the first time since 1984 - to make an album that straddled several decades of US rock and, as confirmed by its rapturous reception, was his best output in years. Kings of Leon - Only by the Night (2008) With their fourth album, the Tennessee rockers completed their metamorphosis from scrappy Southern good ol' boys into well-oiled, arena-hopping rock stars, while somehow managing to make music that was both forward-looking and true to their roots.