"Are we human or are we dancer?" Brandon Flowers once asked with the Killers. But as he proves on his excellent new solo album, he sounds most human exactly when he's dancer. The Desired Effect is easily his strongest work since the Killers' 2008 keeper Day & Age, and it's similarly full of synth-disco flourishes. Flowers gets a boost from producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who brings the same New Wave glimmer he brought to recent albums by Sky Ferreira and Haim. "I Can Change" takes off from Bronski Beat's 1984 club classic "Smalltown Boy" to build a desperate torch song, featuring a spoken-word cameo from Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant.
Needless to say, Flowers doesn't hold back when it comes to his trademark marvelously garbled metaphors, as in lines like "I was up in a velvet gold mine/Till you put my feet back on the ground." (Technically, Brandon, gold mines are underground by definition. Even velvet ones.) But he brings real warmth to these songs, emoting about the "born lost and dirty-blond" Vegas gals of "Never Get You Right" and "Diggin' Up the Heart," which evokes ELO's unjustly forgotten rockabilly phase. Taken together, The Desired Effect is something rare — the best straight-up pop album made by a rock star in recent memory.