This is an rare case of me discovering an artist that I had very little exposure to, and guided by a few key singles I wanted to hear more. It’s a story I don’t get so often now, and I end up often looking at back catalogues of artists I am already aware of, or follow-ups to albums I enjoyed.
I’m inclined to think that I changed, but maybe the way new artists are marketed changed too. The big new artists these days always seem to arrive on a tidal-wave of hype, either from the critics (largely helped by the label money, no doubt), or from a big breakthrough hit on Youtube or something. Either way it always feels like it’s being forced upon me, and I don’t often get my own personal buzz of discovering something new at my own leisure.
Anyway, I knew of Adam Lambert years ago, a runner-up in American Idol in what I gather was a controversial result, since some other guy won that people may have thought wasn’t so interesting as an artist. I also knew he was openly gay, certainly something you’d pick up on from the rather plasticated debut album cover. His debut single “For your entertainment” got some airing in the UK, but superior follow-up “Whadaya want from me” didn’t get much attention here. I heard it a few weeks ago and realised that I liked it a lot.
The second album surprisingly still got a promotional push in the UK, and the flash-looking video for the lead single “Never close our eyes” went well with a strong pop-dance song, so here I am listening to his second album “Trespassing”. I’ll just get on with it.
07 Trespassing – A punchy opener, and I’m reminded that he toured as the vocalist with Queen for a while. I think that’s a good fit, and there’s more than a whiff of Queen about this (no jokes…). I think it’s the bassline. It’s pretty good, lots of attitude certainly. I think it’s just a bit rocky for my tastes, I was never a big Queen fan like lots of people are!
07 Cuckoo – A little dancier now, though the emphasis is more on the electropop production and more attitude than on the tempo. It bounces along pretty efficiently, but doesn’t really hit its stride until the chorus. What does that “I’m gonna loooose my mind” bit remind me of? Something 80s I think, just can’t place it. At this point there is the nagging doubt that there will be a lot of attitude-filled tracks about not caring what people think. I mean of course I can’t blame him for having an axe to grind on this topic, but let’s see.
07 Shady – Tempo is down for a bit of a swinger. I can sort of feel his influences in his music, with some diva-ish vibes coming off this one. At the risk of sounding like I’m not enjoying this album at all, this is one of those type of tracks that all pop artists seem to do, trying to be a big sexy and cooler. It never really washes with me really (speaking as a sexless android), it’s got a decent beat to it, really listenable, but not my favourite.
10 Never close our eyes – This is more like it! Catching the prevailing wind of pop-dance, this is a boombastic squelchy electro track. Not surprising that Bruno Mars had a hand in the songwriting duties, I can almost hear him singing it. That bridge really heats things up to that full-on dance chorus. I think this suits Adam pretty well, you need a big voice to keep up with this production, let alone complement it. His vocals are the best I’ve heard on this album so far, and the lyrics have a bit more to say than its predecessors. A great launch single for the UK, and I still love it after repeated listens.
08 Kickin’ in – Difficult to follow that last track, so instead we have a rather weird but infectious track, seemingly about some girl getting hammered to forget her troubles. Wonder if it’s about anyone we know? That pulsing beat is simple but nice to listen to. A bit repetitive by the end, but I’ve heard worse.
08 Naked Love – This is starting to sound like Swedish pop music now, with a bit more of a holiday feel to it. Wouldn’t sound out of place on an Eric Saade album really. It’s got a nominally sexy theme to it, but it doesn’t feel quite like the song has the right tone for that sort of thing. A pleasant listen anyway, however basic it is.
07 Pop that lock – How modern, I have no idea what that title means, is it street dancing or something? Anyway, musically it sounds like a diluted version of other nondescript songs heard so far on this album, and never really reaches a satisfying chorus. I mean it’s punchy certainy but doesn’t do a lot for me.
09 Better than I know myself – Finally we are slowing things down and attempting something a bit more heartfelt than the fun but quite superficial dance tracks we’ve heard a lot of. A big-sounding love song with plenty of interesting production in the mix. Reminds me a bit of Daniel Bedingfield somehow, emotional and big-vocalled. I can see why this was a single in the US but I can’t help but think it was a bit of an odd choice for the lead, since it’s quite unrepresentative of the album. The verses are a bit flat but brief, leaving plenty of space for the great chorus. Great vocals!
08 Broken English – I see “Sparro” on the writing credits, is that Sam “Black & Gold” Sparro? A gentle verse doesn’t quite prepare you for the – at times – shouty chorus. I mean it’s a tuneful chorus but he seems to enjoy the max volume notes. The production’s certainly interesting, especially that jolting electro effect in the choruses. Sounds like it’s about relationship difficulties, but doesn’t quite have the killer lyrics to set it apart.
09 Underneath – Time for a proper ballad, sad piano intro and a tender emotional vocal. I suppose it’s bluntly about revealing his inner feelings, via an atmospheric and big ballad. There are flourishes of ethereal production to add some weight to it, but really his vocals carry this one. That chorus sometimes mistakes volume for passion, but all in all it’s a striking and captivating little track.
07 Chokehold – One more darkly electro track before the big curtain call, and it maintains the sophisticated pop sound of the album. You couldn’t accuse of it sounding cheap, certainly. This doesn’t really get off the ground, maybe the defined sound of the album is sometimes a bit of a burden, making some songs sound a bit samey, or suffer from poor comparisons to similar tracks on the album. This is fine, but I don’t get very excited about it.
10 Outlaws of love – Just when you thought Underneath was the big emotional payoff, here comes the closing track. To give him credit, this could have easily have been a ‘gay’ album, with all the pitfalls of pop going political. Instead somehow it’s the opposite, with lots of tracks that don’t (in my opinion) say a lot at all, more as a showcase for his persona of attitude, not giving a fuck and wanting to party. All well and good, but I’m not that into it. So – far from being militant about anything – I’m pleased to hear this track that I interpret to be about acceptance of gays (though maybe gay marriage was the subject). It’s a gorgeously peaceful protest with this feeling of ‘things might not even be getting better, but it doesn’t change how I feel’. Though it’s a pretty sad tone, there are some gentle but strongly dismissive gestures towards the opposition, with lines like “you say we’ll rot in hell, but I don’t think we will”. His upper register is kept mostly under control, leaving the big vocals as a feature rather than a standard. A really touching track to finish off.
So that’s that! I actually enjoyed this album a lot more than it sounds. It’s an easy listen, and the uptempo dance-pop feel is enjoyable, but at times it just doesn’t really stand up under any real scrutiny, with perhaps too many superficial tracks about being a strong character or getting trashed and not caring etc. There’s plenty of that out there already, and someone I can imagine being a role model should be careful about leaning so heavily on this sort of theme.
I will get around to listening to his debut album certainly, and I’m interested to hear what he comes up with next.
Keepers for the iPod: Never close our eyes, Kickin’ in, Better than I know myself, Underneath, Outlaws of Love