It’s only right that one puts aside Flowers’ work with The Killers before appraising his second solo LP. One might assume that he continues here to better express his ideas. One also, therefore, might expect him to seize this opportunity to give us his all, perhaps to surprise and unmoor the listener, to say that which is difficult to say within a band set up in an emboldened voice, alone and brave.
But instead he surfs in complacently on a foam of formula.
Horns blare on LP opener ‘Dreams Come True’, but the voice arrives like someone who has just triumphed at an after-school chess club. At times you hear Paul Simon, the distant muffled whinny of Art Garfunkel accompanied by the grunts of Johnny Clegg. These are other people’s styles and it’s patently obvious. Then the timbre drops and you’re almost listening in on a Springsteen concert. It’s curious to hear so many references on a modern record, but these days we’re to accept them as the ‘artist’s influences’.
But more insistent is the hand of the producer who has ensured that the album opens with bombast and roar to announce… well, a solo effort. It’s the rolling thunder of the US studio system. It’s music as a lumbering, formulaic gimmick: the aural equivalent of aerosol cheese.
With ‘Can’t Deny My Love’ you get a mélange of ideas that evoke a Thelma and Louise top-down-in-the-cabriolet sound that pulses with a Serengeti white-collar groove that might have once sounded good under a glitter ball. It’s a return to the big studio multi-layered productions of the 1980s. And the lyric? Who knows. “You can’t deny my love,” he sings obliquely.
And herein lies the problem with US product like this; this record is banking on you never having heard anything musical in your life, lest you glimpse its triteness.
On ‘I Can Change’ Flowers sings “Girl, I can change for you” over a lick seemingly lifted from ‘Run Away’ by The Communards, and between the immediately forgettable pop of ‘Between Me And You’ and the synth hell of ‘Lonely Town’ (where Brandon is, he says, very lonely) you can catch your breath. But then the auto-tuner comes in as he intones “And I’m standing outside your house”. Pity the poor girl.
The rest of the album hurries itself to a terminus as disturbing hints of Bucks Fizz and the E Street Band stitch themselves together in ‘Digging Up The Heart’, and by the time you reach ‘Never Get You Right’ you start to strongly suspect that Flowers is a huge fan of Michael McDonald.
And the desired effect of this long player? To mark the passage of time, perhaps, but little else. It is worth remembering that the US once gave the world bands like The 13th Floor Elevators. And now we have Brandon. That’s something to think on when preparing to part with your hard-earned cash for music as new and as corporate as this – assuming people still do that.