The Desired Effect Album Review
Released May 15, 2015
Genre: New Wave, Synthpop, Alt Rock
In Infinite Jest, legend David Foster Wallace wrote, “What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.” This passage means a lot to me, as it articulates many of my feelings in that cool way David Foster Wallace could. Now, I have no idea if The Killers’ frontman and solo artist Brandon Flowers has ever read Infinite Jest or if he’s familiar with this passage, but he is so obviously taking to heart Wallace’s core message in his new album, The Desired Effect. Maybe Wallace would have disagreed, but it feels to me Flowers is becoming too sentimental, naïve, and “goo-prone.” I won’t go so far to call him pathetic (because he’s not). The Desired Effect is an unabashedly earnest, enjoyable, but largely uneven record.
The Desired Effect kicks off in a fine, if not particularly notable fashion. We’re introduced to Flowers’ second solo album with what seems to be a Springsteen homage in “Dreams Come True.” Blaring horns combine with references to highways, dreams, and promises to make “Dreams Come True” obvious in its attempts to evoke nostalgia in the listener. Then, the 80s pop sounding “Can’t Deny My Love” invades with a sick beat and straight up pretty creepy lyrics. “Can’t Deny My Love” was a smart choice to be the album’s single; it’s catchy. Still, as the title suggests, this song gives off a somewhat unsettling vibe, which I assume was unintentional. Closing out The Desired Effect’s effective first act is “I Can Change.” This track is honest and real, and it’s one of only a few times that Flowers’ over the top openness completely works.
Flowers’ unflinching approach to emotion is highlighted most noticeably by the next set of songs. Song four, “Still Want You,” could be knocked down by its rather extreme, somewhat stupid declarations of love, but it’s thankfully bolstered by some powerful female backing voices. It segues nicely into “Between Me And You,” which ends up being remarkable primarily due to its tone. “Between Me And You” is reminiscent of a hushed, intimate conversation with a person who is letting their guard down for the first time in a long time, unlike much of the rest of The Desired Effect, which is more like a dude shouting his feelings at you in a crowded room. Following this is “Lonely Town.” I’m not the best person to discuss this song, solely because it contains auto-tune. I hate auto-tune. So, maybe “Lonely Town” is an A-OK piece, but I’m too irrational to consider that.
The final four tracks on The Desired Effect vary wildly in regards to how well they work, though, interestingly, most of the four ‘feel’ rather similar. If any song on this album is essentially a Killers song, it’s “Diggin’ Up The Heart,” a fast and fun rock song. It’s no “Somebody Told Me,” but it’s solid. Following this is the melancholic “Never Get You Right,” which is somewhat disappointing. It’s so close to what it wants to be, but isn’t quite there. “Untangled Love”, track nine, is far and way the worst song on this record. Maybe these lyrics work for some of you, but if I hear “Friday nights and football stands” in a song, I’m bound to check out. Flowers rebounds with the final song, “The Way It’s Always Been.” It’s a slow, moving piece that finally puts the emphasis on Flowers’ amazing voice.
It can be difficult to stand on the line between being full self aware, tongue-in-cheek and 100% snarky and being compltely genuine and annoyingly non-cynical, but it’s important to try. While there are countless exceptions, I fully believe most great art is produced while standing on that line. And Brandon Flowers is talented, really; The Killers is one of my favorite bands. Still, I can’t help but wish he would have reined in his inherent wish to be “goo-prone” while producing The Desired Effect. It’s an entertaining record, but undoubtedly one that could have used some bite.
FAV TRACKS: I Can Change, Diggin’ Up The Heart
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Untangled Love, Lonely Town