By Kyle Anderson
Updated May 14, 2015 at 09:57 PM EDT

Should the other guys in the Killers be worried? Sure, frontman Brandon Flowers has put out a well-received solo album before (2010’s Flamingo), and he’s given no indication that he wants to leave the band with whom he’s spent 15 years and sold more than 20 million albums. But based on The Desired Effect, he’s having way more fun with his side piece than he is at home.

Effect telegraphs a freewheeling kind of joy that Flowers hasn’t shown since the Killers’ earliest days. (It was certainly missing on their mildly slogging 2012 effort, Battle Born.) He’s still obsessed with all the grand melodic possibilities of arena-size slabs of ’80s cheese, but his heart-on-sleeve fandom is so passionate that it makes sounds borrowed from the hummable world-beat of Peter Gabriel (“Between Me and You”), U2’s juke-joint era (“Dreams Come True”), and breathless Duran Duran poses (“Can’t Deny My Love”) feel futuristic and fresh. Partial credit goes to the keyboard-tied all-star team he assembles here, including Bruce Hornsby and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant. And producer Ariel Rechtshaid deftly translates the stadium sprawl of mid-period Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty into focused pop grenades, just as he did for Haim on their acclaimed debut.

But it’s Flowers’ unique presence—equal parts Wild West underdog and glitzy glam messiah—that really transforms Effect’s Reagan-era throwbacks into forward-thinking Instagram-age rock. “It ain’t that strange/Any boy can change,” he notes on “Diggin’ Up the Heart.” It’s a line Flowers may have to use on the bros he left behind to explain just how lifechanging this semester abroad has been. A–


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