Brandon Flowers: Flamingo


RIYL: The Killers, Vigilantes of Love, U2

Brandon-Flowers-Flamingo-Official-Album-Cover[1] Flamingo, or chameleon? Listeners who mainly remember Brandon Flowers from early Killers hit singles like “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me” may be in for a bit of a shock with his solo debut, which finds him toning down the gulpy vocal shtick that made him famous – and finally making the widescreen roots rock record he was aiming for with Sam’s Town.

Flowers has always struggled to get a grip on his outsize ambitions, and there are moments on Flamingo that don’t resonate as strongly as they’re supposed to. For the first time in his career, though, he doesn’t sound like he’s trying too hard; these songs come across more like personal statements than would-be epics. They’re still woefully derivative of Flowers’ influences – seeing Daniel Lanois’ name in the credits is going to trigger waves of eye-rolling from U2 fans who still think of Flowers as a Bono wannabe – but the difference here is that instead of trying to stand on the shoulders of giants to craft Grand Statements, he’s just using his musical DNA to write songs. It may read like a pretty fine distinction, but when it’s pouring out of the speakers, it’s huge – the difference between being handed a message and beaten over the head with it.

Of course, he’s still earnest to a fault. Flamingo might present a slightly subtler Brandon Flowers, but this is still music that leaves you feeling like you’re speeding across a lonely highway, or pensively looking out over a sepia desert mountaintop. It never hits as hard as it wants to, but so few mainstream rock records even bother asking you to really feel anything anymore – there’s something hopelessly noble about an album aimed so squarely at the heart. (Island 2010)

Brandon Flowers MySpace page

  

Quintessential Songs of the ’00s: #6 “Mr. Brightside”

The heavily promoted “When We Were Young” actually hit #1 on Billboard’s alternative chart, but “Mr. Brightside” climbed to #10 on the Hot 100, which is an impressive feat these days for a rock song.

Here are a couple of interesting facts from the song’s wiki page:

The song was named “Song of the Decade” by UK radio stations Absolute Radio and XFM, and in April 2010 Last.fm revealed that it was the most listened to track since the launch of the online music service, with over 7.66 million plays scrobbled

Not only do the Killers own the most-played song on Last.fm, but probably have the lyric of the ’00s as well, in another song (“All These Things I’ve Done”) — I’ve got soul / but I’m not a soldier.

Per the Songfacts page:

Killers guitarist Dave Keuning wrote this about lead signer Brandon Flowers’ ex-girlfriend who cheated on him. Flowers recalled to Q magazine March 2009 how he discovered her with another man at the Crown and Anchor pub in his hometown of Las Vegas: “I was asleep and I knew something was wrong. I have these instincts. I went to the Crown and Anchor and my girlfriend was there with another guy.” Flowers added that the song was “born” at the Crown and Anchor.

More Quintessential Songs of the ’00s.

  

The Bravery: Stir the Blood


RIYL: The Killers, The White Lies, Black Tie Dynasty

With their self-titled debut, the Bravery were the anointed “next big thing” in the Post Punk revival that has defined indie music in the first decade of this new millennium. Danceable electronic rock and roll, they rode the hype into a couple of hits, only to return with a sophomore album that failed to enchant. The Sun & the Moon showed the group trying to stretch themselves musically, but did more to expose the limits of their songwriting, creating a very uneven experience, bogged down with an overabundant sense of self-importance. Now they are back, returning to original form with a third album called Stir the Blood that returns their glitzy energy to the forefront.

Now, replace all band and album titles references above with the corresponding works by the Killers, and notice that the paragraph works just as well. Hmmmmm…

Well, perhaps it is unfair to say the Bravery are riding on the coattails of their contemporaries, but the parallels are all but inescapable, and the comparisons aren’t favorable for the New York boys. Stir the Blood is an aggressive and eclectic collection of pop rock tunes, but unlike the Killers’ third work, Day & Age, which takes their balls-to-the-wall pomposity and showmanship and wraps it in ten well-crafted tunes, the Bravery still struggle to master the knack of a memorable song, and frankly appear to still take themselves way too seriously.

The_Bravery_01

It isn’t that Stir the Blood is awful. It has real moments of strength, but has the same unevenness that plagued their first two records. Weak songs like “Song for Jacob” and “I Am Your Skin” are simply forgettable. “Hatef**k” would fall here as well if it didn’t feature an honest-to-god, old-school guitar solo. Nothing to write home about, but the fact that it exists at all is a point in their favor.

“The Spectator” starts off strong, with a moody, melodic intro that hints at dark introspection, but Sam Endicott’s vocals, overly produced and distorted, come across as forced and stilted, failing to capture the listener after the music so smoothly pulls them in. This is endemic throughout the record, a return to one of the more annoying elements of their debut as well. Endicott’s singing is wrapped in effects, often muddying them or worse. At least they minimized his high-pitched whining, which made their first record difficult to listen to as a whole.

Where they succeed, the Bravery clearly steal from some interesting sources. This includes “She’s So Bendable,” which is a mix of the Jesus & Mary Chain and Daniel Ash, while “I Have Seen the Future” is entirely structured around the original “Dr. Who” theme song. Seriously. Just try and avoid picturing the Tardis spinning away in some bad ‘70s special effects when you listen to it.

These odd influences continues with “Red Hands White Knuckles,” where they copy the electronic drum line right off of Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice” theme, returning to it like a refrain that is an effective hook for the ear. Hard to imagine that these classic TV elements are just happenstance, so give the Bravery props for some clever arrangements that do what good pop music should. It grabs you with something familiar and yet goes somewhere new.

Still, the bands penchant to emulate a little too closely comes out in their final track, “Sugar Pill.” Sounding like nothing else on the album, this song is a complete and utter copy of the National, like an outtake from their brilliant 2008 album Boxer. Endicott mimics Matt Berninger’s basso rumble, lyrically trying to sound as poetic, but only coming across as obscure.

Energetic but uneven, intriguing but derivative, Stir the Blood is a move in the right direction for the Bravery, but they still have a ways to go. (Island 2009)

The Bravery MySpace page

  

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: The Twilight Saga: New Moon


RIYL: Vampires, werewolves, everlasting love

Say this for soundtrack supervisor extraordinaire Alexandra Patsavas: with the soundtrack to “New Moon,” the second installment in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, she leaves nothing in the bag, as it were. With a lineup chock full of megastars and indie darlings, New Moon is the most ambitious soundtrack to come down the pipe in a while. It’s also decidedly more grown-up than its predecessor, forsaking teen angst poster children Paramore and Linkin Park for the moody stylings of Bon Iver (teamed up with St. Vincent here), Sea Wolf, and Grizzly Bear. Muse is the only returning act – expect them to appear on the soundtrack for every “Twilight” movie, as Meyer is a devout fan – and it’s a doozy, as “I Belong to You,” from their latest album The Resistance, is punched up and, more imporantly, edited down (no piano break, woo hoo!). Thom Yorke delivers the wonderfully minimalist electro brooder “Hearing Damage,” and Patsavas scores a massive coup by securing the first new song by OK Go in four years, the endearingly oddball “Shooting the Moon.”

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON

The biggest problem with the soundtrack is the sequencing. It will surely make sense in context with the movie, but as a straight-through listen sans visuals, it’s awfully up and down. All quibbling aside, New Moon is far better than anyone had a right to expect it to be, growing up along with its audience. Bravo, Alex. (Chop Shop/Atlantic 2009)

Twilight: New Moon MySpace page
Click to buy New Moon from Amazon

  

stellastarr*: Civilized

The latest from New York City based indie rock band stellastarr* (yeah, that’s how they spell it – no caps and that silly asterisk) is more of what you may have come to expect from them if you have followed them at all. The album, called Civilized and released on the band’s own Bloated Wife imprint, has the same elements of glam, new wave and punk that have lifted bands like the Cure and more recently, the Killers, to lofty heights. And while those comparisons may have black lipstick and nose-ring-wearing types to hit “download,” they should temper their expectations because these songs just don’t measure up. The band is undoubtedly talented, playing their instruments with precision and conviction, but at times lead singer Shawn Christensen just over-emotes to the point of it being like nails on a chalkboard. And most of the melodies, if you call them that, are not very memorable. The exceptions are the Cure-ish anthem “Tokyo Sky,” and “Move On,” which may remind you of another ‘80’s band, OMD. So while we’re not saying you should avoid stellastarr* like the bird flu, just don’t get your hopes up too high for this latest effort. (LABEL: Bloated Wife)

stellastarr* MySpace Page

  

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