Elton's Heroes: No. 4 - Brandon Flowers
The unlikely idol with the killer tunes
Wednesday 01 December 2010
Of all the stadium-filling rock stars to have emerged in the past decade, Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers and part-time solo artist, would seem the most unlikely. He is famously reserved in person, a family man who prizes his privacy and, as a practising Mormon, adheres to a religion that frowns on drinking, drugs, tobacco, tattoos and pre-marital sex. But listen to Flowers' music or watch him on stage, and an altogether different character comes across. He is a captivating showman and, in the glare of the spotlight, an intense, mascara-clad extrovert. Pop-rock anthems such as "Mr Brightside" and "Read My Mind", with their air of seductive tragedy, suggest that this long-term resident of Las Vegas, aka Sin City, has come face to face with life's dark underbelly. But whatever the details, he's not sharing them.
Flowers, 29, never planned to be a rock star. As a child he was obsessed with British pop music – his favourite bands were Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys – though it wasn't until he was 19, and about to take to the road as a Mormon missionary, that he heard David Bowie's "Changes" on the radio and at that moment decided to form a band. Since then he has sold more than 15 million albums, headlined Glastonbury, won two Brit Awards, performed alongside Bruce Springsteen and U2 and become a musical deity who is already emulated by the next generation. Stars who once adorned his bedroom wall now line up to pay tribute to him – Bowie, Morrissey and Neil Tennant among them.
With his all-American matinee-idol looks, Flowers has become a style icon too, championing cropped jackets with feathered epaulettes, waistcoats, bootlace ties, sequinned suits, cowboy boots and "guyliner". Three years ago, he achieved the impossible by making the moustache fashionable for the first time since Burt Reynolds' heyday. On the NME's 2007 "Cool List" Flowers' facial hair made it to No 18, with the man himself following at 44.
Critics have carped that he is too calculated and serious to be a convincing rock'n'roll star. Certainly, he has none of the bad habits that often afflict singers in his position and has described himself, without apology, as having a "businesslike" approach to his work. This, perhaps, is not the most alluring trait for those who like their pop stars to be of the hedonistic, hotel-trashing variety, but it goes some way towards explaining his success.
Not for Flowers the loud-mouthed, hard-drinking, womanising antics of his rock'n'roll peers (The Killers are well known for travelling in two tour buses: one for the married members, another for the single ones). Instead he has remained clear-headed and focused, showed a steely sense of discipline, and steadily guided The Killers from a low-key Anglophile quartet to monster-selling rock behemoths matched only by Muse and Coldplay in terms of scale and ambition.
Beyond his obvious ear for a winning chorus, it's Flowers' drive and restlessness, his avoidance of the typical rock clichés and his striving for perfection, that makes him such a compelling presence. Exactly what drives him remains a mystery. It's this that keeps us all guessing and which, in the age of the over-exposed celebrity, can be no bad thing.
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