Brandon Flowers might be the last honest man in Las Vegas, a land of the lost that has shaped both his glamtastic showmanship and his religious convictions. The Killers' frontman is a guy-linered Mormon with a growing family, a party star with a fierce moral streak. He fears and adores his sinful hometown, and this flamboyant geography has made him a rather fascinating pop artist: all parts Bono, salvation and showgirl feathers.
On his first solo album, the conceptual Flamingo, the 29-year-old Flowers colors the 10 tracks with the neon blur of the Vegas Strip, bright lights that can be thrilling or punishing, depending on how the roulette ball is bouncing. It's still very much a Killers record — big choruses, retro synth washes — but a pensive one, too, partially due to the presence of U2 producer Daniel Lanois, who loves the moody alienation of the desert.
Of course, one producer isn't enough for a record of this scope: Stuart Price, who's worked with Brit post-punkers the Pet Shop Boys, and Brendan O'Brien, Bruce Springsteen's preferred helmsman, have also been brought onboard and that makes sense: For all his love of New Wave bands, Flowers also has a working man's fixation with the Boss. He was born to run away and sob over a nasty breakup.
Somehow, the melange of sound mostly works. The thrill of a great Flowers song is in hearing his voice, normally coated with a back-of-the-throat apathy, suddenly swell to hallelujahs. It's as if he's fighting his depressive instincts but can't resist. The opening Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas is an unlikely love letter to his town; it's almost awkward in its delivery, but the slow build is worth the likably fatalistic payoff: "Didn't nobody tell you / The house will always win?"
Flowers, who married his longtime girlfriend in 2005, excels at the almost-breakup song, two lost souls who need each other to get found. Hard Enough is a cozy, slightly pained duet with indie darling Jenny Lewis; her sweet vocal soothing his darker one. First single Crossfire, however, is more rambunctious therapy; as anthemic as anything in the Killers catalog, the song has chugging drums, ringing guitars, tingly hymnal parts and gobs of romantic swoon: "And when the hardest part is over, we'll be here / And our dreams will break the boundaries of our fears." That's a mouthful, but there aren't many people who sell that sort of heart-sleevery better than Flowers.
Flamingo loses focus at times. The spastic Was It Something I Said?, which sounds like a bad Cure B-side, is an egregious indulgence. And the midtempo Bowie-esque rumination Swallow It closes the disc with a dull thud. But when Flowers is smartly blending both side of his split psyche, he soars, an honest preacher in Liberace's robes. He might not be able to save every soul, but rest assured he's going to look darn good trying.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.