John Walsh: 'He's an odd bloke, this Mr Flowers – an effete man-boy Mormon dandy'

Tales of the City
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The Independent Online

Brandon Flowers, singer with The Killers, has taken the unusual step of clarifying the lyrics to his band's new single, "Human". The song has been all over the airwaves like a sonic rash. Like a million other fans, I've hummed the chorus ("Are we human? Or are we dancers?") and wondered if Mr Flowers, when he wrote the song, had had a premonition about the fate of John Sergeant – he does, after all, seem to suggest it's impossible to be both human and a competent exponent of the pasa doble. Then I realised the lyrics were "Are we human? Or are we dancer?" and tried humming that, but kept being interrupted by a voice in my head asking, "What the hell does that mean?"

Everyone else seems to be asking, too. The PopWatch website has several scroll-miles of argumentative fans calling each other names ("No, you fool, it's not Dancer the reindeer!!!") and insisting the chorus is actually, "Are we human or are we denser?", presumably taking the song as a damning indictment of poor US education standards. At the weekend, Brandon complained. "That sucks a bit," he said. "I don't like 'Are we denser?' I really care what people think, but people don't seem to understand 'Human'. They think it's nonsense, but I was aching over those lyrics for a very long time to get them right." He was inspired, he said, by the Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson, who once complained that America was raising a generation of dancers, rather than, you know, real men like him.

Poor Mr Flowers. He's is an extremely talented songwriter (the rest of "Human" is a touching farewell to goodness and virtue by a chap heading for perdition – "And so long to devotion/ you taught me everything I know/ wave goodbye, wish me well/ you gotta let me go") who suffers from sudden irruptions of bollocks into otherwise fine songs. Remember "All the Things That I've Done" from the debut album? It purrs along on a brilliant rhythmic groove, until suddenly there's a clapalong gospel chorus: "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier..." The melody line is irresistible, but the words refuse to make sense. Having soul doesn't mean you are, or aren't, a soldier, any more than having spots makes (or doesn't make) you a spot welder. It's a just a bit of adolescent wordplay. If Flowers sang, "I got jeans, but I'm not a genius," it would be just as nonsensical. Or "I'm at college, but I'm not an oncologist."

He's an odd bloke, is Mr Flowers – a 27-year-old, man-boy, Mormon dandy whose effete pronouncements ("I don't understand why more people don't wear sequins — they're wonderful under a spotlight") are at odds with the heterosexual competitiveness in his songs. Perhaps it's this tension that makes his lyrics so odd – as in "Bones" from the second album, which contains the most off-putting sexual invitation in the history of romance: "Don't you wanna come with me?/ Don't you wanna feel my bones/on your bones? It's only natural." That should bring the Las Vegas chicks flocking. Those who attend his lyrics closely would have spotted an early danger sign, in the words, "But I don't really like you... and on the cold, wet dirt I cry."

His songs are full of abrupt shifts like this, and false oppositions of the human/dancer, soul/soldier kind. An earlier single, "When You Were Young", describes a chap thus: "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus/ but he talks like a gentleman," a line which would only mean something if the chap looked exactly like Jesus.

Though the band's new album came out only yesterday, the debate about Flowers's lyric competence shows the worlds of private art and public criticism have speeded up to a crazy degree. When "Bohemian Rhapsody" came out, Queen fans had no website on which to debate its virtues. Nor was Freddie Mercury obliged to explain himself. He was allowed his utterance, and the public respected his words, however odd.

In the month when Baz Lurhmann was obliged to rewrite the ending of Australia to suit preview audiences, we must wonder if Brandon and his brothers will soon be required to stop writing bollocks. What a tragic day that would be, if you couldn't write the modern equivalent of "Awopbopalooboalopbamboom" without being hauled before a tribunal....

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