Review: Flamingo (Brandon Flowers)

And then the last phrase I would ever expect to utter (in relation to the extremely talented leader of The Killers) slips out of my mouth.. “Cookie-cutter.”

The first hitch is the production. Honestly, some kind of robot must have produced this record; like a good ol’ Cyberman (for those of you Doctor Who fanatics) sort of robot. The emotionless, mad-with-incomplete-logic breed of robot. (And yes, I realize that several producers were responsible for the corruption of these individual tunes, but the point remains valid— The production is not only universally poorly conducted, but also uneven in the broad range of ‘poor quality-to-poorer quality,’ on a track-by-track basis.)

For example, second track “Only the Young” is mixed into a MASSIVE sonic environment, but the slacker arrangement is shockingly empty. Bowie-esque vocal effects are expected to cover up a complete lack of energy, and they completely fail to do so.

Even big, over-advertised lead single “Crossfire” isn’t that fantastic. The verses flow nicely enough (even through the wobbly “no cause for alarm” bit), but the chorus is mild, unoffensive, with no true drive or dynamic to squeeze the syllables into symphonies, as only the Killers (only altogether, apparently) can do. Vocals are shoved too far back in the mix, and are drowned out by bland electric guitar clichés.

Admittedly, not every piece falls numbly to the wayside. Flowers sneaks in a few chuckle-worthy lines in the slightly-above-average opener “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” (“Did nobody tell you? / The house will always win”), and showcases his engaging vocal proficiency in the adequately arranged (finally) “Hard Enough” and in the captivating power-ballad “Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts.” “Playing With Fire” is also a quality piece with its Radiohead-like guitar intro, deep earthy groans and dark dynamics. The track’s hook verges on banality (lyrically speaking), but Flowers skillfully steers it back (albeit, barely) into acceptable territory (“Playing with fire / You know you’re going to hurt somebody tonight / And you’re out on a wire / You know, you’re playing with fire”).

Comprehensively, though, Flamingo is easily Flowers’s worst demonstration of his ordinarily stellar songwriting capabilities. It’s almost as if he limited himself strictly to the four most generic chords (I, IV, V, and VI); and, consequently, he barely escapes redundancy in progressions on several counts (“Hard Enough” vs. “Swallow It” vs. “Crossfire,” etc.).

To conclude, Flowers misses his chance for a true finale. “Swallow It” (the final track) is borderline annoying, though it actually has the most humane sonic treatment on the record. At last, some organic emotion! Sadly, Flowers pushes the same overused musical routine he does earlier in the record, and its tempo is far too restless for it to be considered an ending on any level.

I would say here how surprised I am, but I’m not really all that stunned. Flamingo is your average solo record, despite the potential and talent of its author. File under “obsessive Killers fans only,” and let’s move on.

74.5% / C- ♭

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Review: Dark is the Way, Light is a Place (Anberlin)

Hmm.. This album cover design looks strangely familiar.. “A Rush of New Anberlin to the Head,” perhaps?

And, while we’re on the subject, this newfound, assimilative tendency is the most unnecessary and tragic “fatal flaw” plaguing Anberlin’s latest effort, Dark is the Way, Light is a Place.

Ambitious sonic exploration and epic melodic potential fall victim to excessive repetition (both lyrically and melodically), generic chord progression usage (the VI, IV, I, V standard blatantly utilized in both “Art of War” and “Closer”), and overall bland and unoffensive production.

Honestly, it’s hard to believe that this is the same Anberlin that meticulously crafted melodic alt-rock gems like “Godspeed,” “Haight St.,” and “Never Take Friendship Personal.” This “progression” (read: “regression”) is not even adequate for such a talented group of musicians.

The lowest of the low points on Dark is the Way include the mindless, dance-y drum shuffle of “You Belong Here” (which also features the most scarce melody in a chorus, perhaps ever, from the band), the numbingly peppy and overly poppy arrangement backboning “Impossible” (not to mention; severely unvarying lyrical snippets such as “You’re wearing me out / You’re wearing me out / But I’m wearing you down”), and the utter Taylor Swift-ness coursing through “Take Me (As You Found Me)” (“Love Story” meets “Fearless,” anyone?).

“To the Wolves” (which sounds like a lost Cities track) and “Down” (the band’s trademark acoustic track per LP) are really the only respectable tracks on this confused concoction; still, the first banks on headaching redundancies in hopes to achieve indelibility, and the latter is ridiculously overproduced in hopes to emulate the band whose album cover Anberlin stole for this release.

Let’s briefly discuss: Was Anberlin’s move to Universal a beneficial relocation? New Surrender was nearly perfect, but Dark is the Way is by far their worst. Could the pressure of a major label be damaging to a band who has dealt with overwhelming underground hype, member losses/additions, and potentially blinding critical praise?

Sadly, yes.

It would be far too generous to pinpoint an exact score here, but let’s just say that it is far from the “Best of the Year” caliber. I hope I never have to say that again.

☂ / ♭

(Note: “Pray Tell” from Dark is the Way, Light is a Place was reviewed earlier here.)