The solo album has always been a tricky proposition. Even members of hugely popular bands have found middling sales and less than glowing reviews down the solo path; just ask Mick Jagger and Keith Richards or Kiss or Joe Perry. There are exceptions — power couple Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani have found equal or greater success in their solo roles — but they're rare. There are clearly motivations — to break from a longstanding band gig and try something new, to stand alone out of the group context, to write chancier material without the band safety net. All are valid reasons, but few will justify the potentially small return on a relatively big risk.
What then to make of Flamingo, the new solo effort from Killers frontman Brandon Flowers? Rules don’t seem to apply to The Killers at any level. After two studio albums, they put out a live album and a rarities/B-side collection, releases that don’t typically occur until late in a band’s career.
Likewise, a solo album generally appears well into a band’s existence, but here is Flowers putting his name above the title just seven years after The Killers’ debut album.
For Flowers, Flamingo accomplishes a couple of things. First, it allows him to purge his recent emotional upheaval (his mother battled brain cancer for two years, passing away in February) in a grandly ambitious fashion without jeopardizing The Killers’ Alt Rock cred. Perhaps most importantly, it gives him a free hand to work in new modes that could conceivably have a big impact on the band down the road.
There are songs on Flamingo that are clearly cut from The Killers’ cloth, from the bombastic energy of “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” to the forced gambling metaphors and Big Country bluster of “Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts.” But there are fascinating departures, like the twangy ambience of “Playing with Fire,” co-written with Daniel Lanois, the stirring Synth Pop balladry of “Hard Enough,” a duet with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, and The Cure-does-’80s-Pop swing of “Was It Something I Said?” All of it serves as a suitable frame for Flamingo’s first single, the expansively epic “Crossfire,” a Springsteen-esque examination of love surviving the modern pressures that afflict us all.
Flamingo has its flaws but surmounts them with emotional and musical honesty, giving Brandon Flowers an opportunity to become one of the rare solo success stories.