Regarding Adam Lambert’s New Album

23 Nov

American Idol Runner-Up Adam Lambert’s new album, For Your Entertainment, drops today. Actually, it already dropped, so it is now sitting there looking at us, post-drop. Considering how much I had to say about him during the last season of the show, I thought I’d write a bit about it.

Short version: I really liked it. No, seriously! Some of the songs are pretty fun, some are kinda lame, but a handful are fucking outstanding (My recommended tunes are listed at the end of this post). It also has, as you can see, the most hilariously uncool/totally awesome album cover I’ve seen in a while.

I first listened to the record last week (it’s been up for a while streaming on Lambert’s MySpace page), after being steered there by the whole Out Magazine-centric “Adam’s PR people are homophobic jerks” debate, which has been discussed online past the point at which I have anything new to add (though I certainly tried, with limited success, over at Low Resolution – thanks, Joe, for dealing with my long-ass comments). And that was before his AMA performance last night (short reaction: I thought the whole thing was an overcooked clusterfuck, and the singing was all over the place), and along with whatever scandalous (or, “scandalous”) thing he does next…it’s easy to forget that the dude has an actual album out, too.

For Your Entertainment is the first Idol-related album I’ve ever listened to all the way through, and though I’d heard about all of the great writers and producers who contributed, I still wasn’t sure what to expect going in.  I’ve never really been able to listen to an album that came from Idol – whatever magic it was that made the contestant stand out during the show is usually scrubbed clean in the production process, and we wind up with a bunch of generic-sounding pop songs that could have been sung by anyone.

(It’s worth noting that Clay Aiken’s album “Measure of a Man” might be the ultra-creepy, bizarre exception.  I never really listened to it, but this years-old TWoP “recap” of the album is so flipping awesome that I can’t not link to it.  It takes a couple pages to get to the album – seriously, read it, and be very afraid.)

Justin'll probably loan this outfit to Adam at some point.

For about the first twenty seconds of FYE‘s opening track, a Justin Hawkins-penned stomper called “Music Again,” I kinda thought the same thing would be true of Lambert’s record.  And then, suddenly, in true Darkness-style, Adam’s voice jumped an octave and a half and the chorus kicked in, and I was like, hmm, okay, damn. I can get with this.

“You make me want to listen to music again” is a kick-ass sentiment, and the tune also contains hilariously Hawkins-y lyrical turns of phrase like, “I want your body, mind, soul, etc.” and a stretch of “Raison D’etre,” into an entire lyrical event.  Keeping in mind that this is a song by the guy who wrote “Friday Night,” aka “The song where they sing about badminton,” one realizes that “Music Again” sounds like a Darkness B-side, complete with a signature Justin Hawkins guitar solo halfway through.  I loved the Darkness, so that’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

The next few tracks take a little tour of blander (though very, very well executed) pop songwriting tropes – the lead single “For Your Entertainment” is pretty lame, really, and Pink’s tune “Whaddya Want From Me” has a great hook and a really good opening verse, then gets a little lost in its trite pop chorus. Kara DioGuardi’s “Strut” is similarly cookie-cutter, and though all three of those tunes are sung well, they have a serviceable, written-by-committee feel to them that, while perfectly enjoyable, is a little bit to shiny. Especially when compared with the next few songs.

Matt Bellamy, he of the custom airplane-aluminum guitars.

Because after “Strut,” things get good, starting with the Matt Bellamy-penned “Soaked.”  It’s at this point in the record that Adam’s voice, and his ability to sing like literally anyone, comes to the fore.  I mean, Soaked IS a Muse song.  The melody and the arrangement match exactly, and Lambert’s vocals evoke Bellamy to an eerie degree. I’ve never heard someone sing so much like Bellamy, actually… not even the dude from Ours, who made Muse-cloning into an art form… “Soaked” may as well be a Muse song.  That’s okay with me, though – I like Muse, and the fact that Matt Bellamy heard someone on Idol, of all places, and said “I want to write a song for that guy,” says a lot.  I mean, this is the guy who wrote Origin of Symmetry, you know?

Things stay strong through the middle of the album, though “Sure Fire Winners” is a bit of a mess, with the producers and writers using every single breakdown-into-big-band-re-entry trick there is.  (Robo vocals!  Tremolo pan!  Extra Beats!).  The tune is clearly aimed at becoming a staple at high school sporting events, and who knows, maybe it’ll get there.  Then again, we already have one “We Will Rock You,” so I’m not sure we need another.

Seriously. So cool.

But “If I Had You” seems like a guaranteed club hit, and though it probably won’t be on the radio, dancefloors across the country are almost sure to be rocking to it for a good long while.  And right after that, “Pick U Up” happens. Co-written by the unlikely team of Rivers Cuomo and Lady GaGa, it’s easly my favorite song the album – there isn’t a second of downtime, or a single missed beat (other than some questionable lyrics in the second verse), and the bridge breakdown contains is one of the most epic vocal climaxes I’ve heard put to tape in a while.  The tune has been stuck in my head for days.

Other standouts include Linda Perry’s “A Loaded Smile,” a reverb-drenched sexytime joint with some really great lyrics (“A loaded smile, an empty glass, and one last dance”), as well as the GaGa tune “Fever,” which has a chorus that is as close to the Scissor Sisters as anyone has ever gotten… seriously, Lambert’s mimicry of Jake Shears’ falsetto is almost criminal.

That sense of deja vu permeates the album, particularly on the best songs – many of them sound like the work of other artists. But even though we’ve heard all of this stuff before, Lambert does a really good job of effortlessly aping so many styles that it’s hard not to be… well, entertained by it all.  It helps that the styles that he’s mimicking are all pretty great – he takes turns singing like Justin Hawkins, Matt Bellamy, Donna Summer, Lady GaGa, Jake Shears, even Emo boys like Panic! and MCR… and in the strangest bit of imitation, his vocals on the choruses of “Pick U Up” sound exactly like Colin Meloy.

Badass Alert.

Typically, when an artist releases an album as scattered and mimic-y as “For Your Entertainment,” the singer himself becomes lost in the costumes, vanishing amidst all the mimicry. And though that criticism could indeed be leveled at this album, Adam’s personal presence remains very much at the forefront of the record for one reason alone – his absolutely insane-o vocal chops. Despite all of the chameleoning going on, there is no denying the unique power of his singing, the strength with which he belts and growls, screams and harmonizes, and it’s that incredible vocal quality that really unifies the record. To be honest, Lambert is a stronger vocalist than any of the singers he’s aping (even the spectacular Hawkins and Bellamy), and his growls and shrieks – the stuff that makes the songs uniquely “Adam” – are rarely sidelined for too long.

And sure, there are some seriously brain-dead lyrics, but with an album as broad as FYE, I certainly didn’t come in expecting James Mercer or anything.  Then again, it’s tough to put up with turds like the following, from “If I Had You”:

Well I got my boots on
got the right ‘mount of leather
and I’m doin’ me up
with a black color liner

And I’m workin’ my strut
but I know it don’t matter
all we need in this world
is some love

Haaaaa what?  Clunkers like that one aren’t uncommon, either – fortunately, things don’t really sit still for long enough for even the worst lyric to hurt the experience.  It’s almost always a matter of seconds before the chorus kicks in, and whatever bad taste a lame phrase might have left is washed away by pounding radness.

The 2-part Out Magazine interview, in particular, is worth checking out.

After seeing Adam perform on Idol and listening to his cool, artistically confident outlook in various interviews, I’ve always felt he seemed like someone who had the musical and personal wherewithal to make an album that I’d actually want to check out.  When they announced the writers who’d be working on For Your Entertainment, I had higher hopes still.

After listening to it, I’m happy to say that my hopes were warranted. I have no doubt that I set the bar lower for this album than I would’ve for, say, a record created by any of the songwriters who worked on it, but it’s just so cool to see how obviously those writers were inspired by Adam’s ability, and how hard they all brought it to the writing and production process.  It’s not every day that a singer comes along who can inspire Linda Perry, Rivers Cuomo, Justin Hawkins, Matt Bellamy, and Lady GaGa (who I have come to regard as the absolute shiz, internet haters be damned), to get them all to really commit and write kick-ass songs, and for his debut, no less. It’s clear that Adam inspires awesomeness in others, and that is a quality that all of the financial backing and TV exposure in the world can’t manufacture – it’s what separates the great from the good.

Lambert is also a very smart, thoughtful, and pragmatic entertainer, and I have no doubt that he will learn greatly from what works on the album and the subsequent tour, and even more from what doesn’t. Assuming he can maintain artistic control over his show and music, I feel pretty confident that he’ll only get better over the coming years, and before long, could very well be putting on the most fun stadium pop tour around.

In the meantime, we’ve got For Your Entertainment, a remarkably assured first release from an artist beginning his career with an unprecedented level of exposure and fame.  Dealing with that many people giving input and shaping your art, with so much money tied up in your image and presentation… it must be so absolutely difficult to stay in tune with yourself, it boggles my mind.  But as Adam said, in one of my favorite bits from his really cool interview in Out:

“It’s a weird misconception with the show, that it’s a machine and they puppet people around. I think some people kind of end up getting puppeted because they don’t really know how to drive.”

Well, dude, you’ve done some pretty good driving so far – you’ve managed to keep the car on the road, and that alone can’t have been easy. Keep your head down, put the pedal to the metal, and keep on doing your fucking best – it seems to be working out so far.

Recommended Tracks:

Pick U Up, Fever, Music Again, A Loaded Smile, Soaked, If I Had You

Buy on: iTunes — Listen on: MySpace

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4 Responses to “Regarding Adam Lambert’s New Album”

  1. Jamie December 5, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    Thanks for this! I actually went over to Glambert’s myspace page and checked out some of these tunes. You are right, it’s pretty good. I’m usually of the mind, and I’ve written about this, that artists and albums that shake up the status quo of pop music is always a good thing, whether it be with the music or the actions and appearance of the people making the music; Gaga, Susan Boyle, all of these people are good for us. We need more of a variety out there. And if the music is actually good, well then of course I’m really all for it.

  2. Jamie December 5, 2009 at 4:30 pm #

    “Soaked” sounds like some gorgeousness that Aqualung would come out with.

    • Kirk December 6, 2009 at 11:50 am #

      Concur – it’s a really nice song, though really, I think it just sounds like a Muse song more than anything. To a fault, almost – the way Adam bends his notes and adds vibrato is the most spot-on mimicry of Matt Bellamy I’ve ever heard. Which figures, since I bet that after he wrote the song, Bellamy sent Adam a recording of himself singing it, so Adam just learned it that way. Just a guess, though.

  3. hermione costumes June 22, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

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