Brandon Flowers’ solo record takes a trip through the less seen corners of Las Vegas and beyond

Brandon Flowers promised that his first album would be an exploration of the real Las-Vegas, the Las-Vegas whose streets he wandered as an adolescent. Drawing inspiration from the down-and-out, broken-hearted, broken men, as much as the gleaming lights of the Vegas Strip; Flamingo represents one man’s attempt to find the real America amongst all the neon haze and artifice.

            Flowers has called upon three of the world’s finest producers:  Brendan O’Brien, Stuart Price and Daniel Lanois, famous for producing records for Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and U2 respectively, and it is the former whose influence is most obvious on the album’s opening track Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas. Flowers indulges his own love for Springsteen in a ballad of grand scale, telling of ‘neon-encrusted temples’. It is a world where ‘strangers’ on the casino floors become ‘disciples’ stumbling down the boulevard ‘crying hosanna’. All of this plays out over peeling drum beats, and even the occasional miniature guitar solo. It is as lavish and overblown as the title suggests, yet in contrast Flowers tongue seems firmly set in his cheek in a chorus which issues constant reminders that ‘the house will always win’.

            As Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts begins, we are yet to leave the Casino floor. This pulsating, effervescent track could just as easily have belonged to The Killers, and been amongst their vivacious best; juxtaposing the thousands of emotions felt by wild-eyed gamblers in a maelstrom of rolling dice and flying cards. In sharp contrast Playing with Fire is personal, morose and intriguing; a cutting vocal sounds reminiscent of Johnny Cash and cries out in defence of Flowers’ Mormon faith: ‘This church of mine may not be recognised by steeple/But that doesn’t mean that I will walk without a God’.

            It is unfortunate that as the album draws on, the standard cannot be kept as consistently high: Crossfire, the first single, is unimpressive and leaves a fairly bland taste compared to earlier richness. Furthermore Swallow It is a bizarre way to conclude the record, it fails (quite dramatically) to capture the eccentricity of the ‘performers’ it portrays, and ends the album on a rather uncomfortable note. Yet amongst these later tracks Magdalena is rapturous, and On the Floor is a magnificently grandiose hymn for the desperate; with Flowers’ striking vocal stunningly interplaying with a gospel choir. Both of these are evidence of three of the world’s greatest producers at work.

            The ITunes Deluxe Edition (£9.99) also contains four bonus tracks, The Clock Was Tickin’, Jacksonville, I Came Here to Get Over You and Right Behind You, along with the video for Crossfire and a ‘Digital Booklet’. Of these bonus tracks, Right Behind You is comfortably the most accomplished, and would surely have been a more resounding conclusion to the record. It is a haunting, synth-laden ode to those leaving Las Vegas with empty pockets and empty hearts, heading out on ‘the dusty road’ to be consumed by the Nevada darkness. Throwing the listener into the world of Born to Run’s ‘broken heroes’; it is the stuff of great American rock.

            It is fairly obvious that many of the tracks on Flamingo were intended for a Killers record, and this is perhaps where the strongest criticisms lie, but it is all too easy to condemn Flowers’ occasional lack of vision. The album does have touches of a solo artist; there is more indulgence in Flower’s own personal tastes and inspirations, combined with enough ventures away from the sound of The Killers to satisfy all but the harshest critic. It is occasionally sublime, and this fascinating listen only very rarely disappoints.

Flamingo is released 6th September 2010

Pete Ames