Brandon Flowers - Flamingo
Record Label: Island Records
Release Date: September 14th, 2010
My past experiences with Brandon Flowers and The Killers have been a bit tumultuous. I paid little attention to “Somebody Told Me” when it first hit television and radio stations, and even thought it was pretty catchy. But I couldn't take it anymore after being bombarded with its nonsense lyrics week after week. I wanted little to do with Hot Fuss for years, and it was only after becoming obsessed with Sam's Town that I finally went back to their debut and checked it out. I loved it and still do to this day, but I can't help but skip that first single every time I come to it. Hot Fuss taught me an important lesson back then, and it was one I sorely needed to learn.
As I mentioned before, I was deeply infatuated with Sam's Town. No other album before or since has grabbed me like that one did. The only problem was that it refused to let go. I can't begin to count the number of times I listened to that album within the first few weeks of its release, and it remains one of my all-time favorite records. They continued on with Sawdust (fantastic) and Day & Age (less than fantastic), but after touring for the good part of six years, the band decided to take a short break in early 2010. Rumors were already circulating that Flowers was working on a solo album, and I voraciously ate up every single piece of news or speculation that mentioned it. Flamingo was eventually announced in April of this year and quickly became my most anticipated album of the year.
My time with Flamingo can only be described as nostalgic. The Killers are at their best when sappy, belting out songs so rife with Americana that it compels you to make sure you haven't traveled back in time. So I was happy to hear Flowers return to the gospel-inspired paths he explored in-between the New Wave synthpop. While Sam's Town could have described any small town in the USA with its trailer park charm, Flamingo is anchored to Flowers' hometown of Las Vegas. An arguably sleazier city than any other, Flowers does a great job of reminding outsiders that it's more than just casinos and strip joints.
While Flowers is a bit more reserved in his solo outing, Flamingo still retains a bit the thematic charm of a typical Killers album. “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” opens the album silently, but quickly ramps into a fantastic intro that could fill any stadium. The lyrics equate the odd loneliness one may feel in a crowded place like Las Vegas to a sort of religious experience. Flowers' warbling choruses are accompanied by an intense and constantly building piano melody that makes this track huge in every sense of the word. “Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts” is an odd mix of old and new. The verses are drenched with repetitive synth chords but at the same time driven by a smooth acoustic guitar.
The rest of the album is an interesting combination of personalities. There's no denying most of the tracks are heartland at its finest, but under the surface bubbles a fountain of alternative influences. On “Hard Enough” Flowers' and guest vocalist Jenny Lewis conjure images of Johnny Cash and June Carter, resulting in a perfect image of melancholic love that country used to capture so well. “Was It Something I Said?” combines Flowers' take on the familiar Southern twang with a fast pace and keyboards that almost directly contradict the vocals.
But that's not to say Flamingo doesn't introduce any experimentation on Flowers' part. The first single “Crossfire” is a sort of modern day hymn and a definite eye-opener in terms of lyrical content and overall quality. It's definitely the most polished track on the album, and offers a quick sneak peek into the musical future Flowers' is opening himself up to. The single has an almost U2-esque quality of being enormously grand in scale without relying too much on instrumentation, and is a great apex to dive from as the album begins to wind down.
And wind down Flamingo does. “On the Floor,” while not the album closer, does a great job of dropping the decibels and letting Flowers' vocals take over. It's a very stripped down track, mainly featuring simplistic piano chords until the gospel choir jumps in to back Flowers up. It's a short song, sweet in its message of atonement and particularly heavy even for a person of low religious fortitude as myself. I constantly find myself drawn to gospel music for whatever reason, and this song is no different with its beguiling charm.
Flamingo. Named for both a casino and road both found in Las Vegas, this album delivers a little bit of everything. It very well could have been the next Killers album, and I'll be immensely happy if the full band takes a cue from Flowers on their future release. The prevalent themes of overindulgence and redemption are constantly at odds, but the angel on this album's shoulder eventually wins, providing a quick glimpse into Flowers religious beliefs without being overbearing. Flamingo is sweet, cheesy, and deeply personal. It also won't be leaving my playlist for quite some time.