Brandon Flowers – Lonely Town
I don’t know about you, but for me it usually takes at least a year for an album to settle into its place in a pop star’s overall canon – sometimes longer (three or four years with Kate Bush). I need at least that length of time for the songs to stop feeling ‘new’, and once the thrill of that has worn off I get a much better sense of how they fit and how I feel about them. I’m just about at that point with Brandon Flowers’ 2015 album The Desired Effect now, and I’m pleased to find that it’s become this decade’s equivalent to Gwen Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby i.e.) the exciting, inventive and unexpectedly amazing pop album to beat. The thing I can’t quite work out is whether it feels like it was a success. Sure, it was a no.1 album in the UK, but so far it’s only spent 14 weeks on the chart – seven fewer than its predecessor Flamingo – and has generated precisely no top 40 hits. Yet the ‘buzz’ around The Desired Effect was far greater than that for Flamingo, and for a while it looked like I Can Change might become a proper hit (in the end at stopped at no.52). Of course Flamingo actually had a top ten hit in the form of Crossfire, but I’ll be darned if I can hum it.
Now let’s imagine the album had actually been released in its spiritual time period – somewhere in that sweet spot between 1985 and 1988. I’m pretty sure we’d be looking at four top ten hits – which in my alternate version of events would have been (in the classic order of two uptempos then a ballad then a banger to finish), Can’t Deny My Love, I Can Change, Between Me and You (which thrilled me with its inclusion of the Paula Yates “hey!” sample as first heard in Close to the Edit by Art of Noise) and Lonely Town. It’s the last of these that I’m focusing on today because I have a soft spot for final singles from albums. They have so much work to do compared to their predecessors and curiously, they often turn out to be my secret favourite. When they triumph – as with Belinda Carlisle’s (We Want) the Same Thing – it’s immensely satisfying (even if you’re still a bit bitter that Summer Rain wasn’t bigger), and when they don’t you can always convince yourself it’s because everyone has the album already.
If I had to explain Brandon Flowers in a classroom, I’d play this tune and write phrases on the blackboard such as ’80s fixation’, ‘epic backing vocals’, ‘widescreen pop’, ‘references to lost youth’ and ‘all the blue collar feels’. All of which basically means: textbook Flowers. If the class was particularly interested, I might delve a little deeper and point out that the plinky plonky twinkly bits give me the same feeling as the ones in Dolce Vita by Ryan Paris. We’d then agree the song would be a perfect ten were it not for the unnecessary vocoder, and rate it as a 9.5.
In some ways I think that Brandon Flowers is pop’s ultimate emulsifier: he brings together elements that really shouldn’t blend, but somehow he makes it work. Untangled Love, for example, swings from Springsteen to Dollar and back again and makes perfect sense. Meanwhile, Lonely Town unites Memphis-y horns, Human League grade synths and throws in a choir worthy of one of Foreigner’s more bombastic moments to create a record that’s as at home in the stadium as it is on the dancefloor – though I always prefer to listen to on headphones while I’m out and about. If you ever spot me striding purposefully out of the back end of a Routemaster it’s probably because that big old throbbing sequencer line has just kicked in and I’m lost in my own private video for it (I do this a lot and I thoroughly recommend it).
Taken as a whole, I reckon The Desired Effect was a bit of a test case for this question: can you have a hit album without any hit singles? The answer turned out to be yes, yes you can – but the curious way in which the four sort-of-singles all came out within a two month period gave the record a shorter than it deserved chart life. And as this seems to be the way things are going, there are implications for the Greatest Hits album, no? In the future they will all have to be called The Best Of or The Collection or Songs You Liked But Didn’t Buy. For me, that’s an effect that leaves a lot to be desired.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? *shrugs*