Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Adam Lambert's "For Your Entertainment": He Will...He Will ROCK YOU! (sorta)

Rating: 3.5/5

At the start of “Strut,” track 4 on “For Your Entertainment,” when Adam Lambert croons “I wanna start a revolution,” one can’t help but see it as the album, and the man’s, mission statement.

I mean, Adam Lambert’s very existence is pretty damn revolutionary. There have been many openly gay pop stars, but certainly not at the start of their careers. The sexual orientation of George Michael, Elton John and Freddie Mercury was perhaps an open secret throughout their respective heydays, but Lambert is beginning his career open, honest and unapologetic about whom he is, and that’s important. Gay youth (and straight youth, as well) across the globe can turn on the radio and hear a young, talented and confident gay man treat his sexuality exactly the way he should, rather than as some dark secret to be ashamed of and hide at all costs. While this is exciting and, well…awesome, it places quite the burden on the 27 year-old American Idol alum; can he live up to not just the hype, but the responsibility of forging new ground for a community in the throes of a vital, ever-intensifying battle for equal rights?

Well, the second part of that question remains to be seen (and would be quite the daunting task to judge). Musically, “For Your Entertainment” is a respectable, accomplished debut album however, showcasing Lambert’s exceptional pipes over slice after slice of fun, life-affirming, Queen-inspired glam-pop. It’s a bit disappointing that things stay at the shallow end of the pool lyrically, oscillating between carefree, “life is good” sentiments and lover’s lament. But sometimes the results are spectacular; “Pick U Up” is a blast, and album highlight "Sure Fire Winners," Lambert's response to "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions," actually rocks pretty hard. The aforementioned “Strut” is a perfect example of songwriting that marries concept with sound perfectly (the song really does...strut), and the Lady Gaga-penned “Fever” is the album’s sexiest and most confident moment, perhaps in part due to the fact that it’s the only song where Lambert has the balls to use the pronouns “he” and “him” to describe the object of his affections, rather than playing it safe.

Elsewhere though, the album begins to falter with cookie cutter, mainstream pop numbers, like lead single “For Your Entertainment” for example, that do nothing particularly spectacular and seem to just lumber along until they’re over, relying on Lambert himself to carry the song. "Aftermath," for example, boasts a phenomenal vocal performance, as does just about everything here, though the song itself is actually quite bland.

But when things slow down, the results are quite stunning. “Soaked,” written by Muse, is absolutely gorgeous. Boasting the best vocal performance on the album, Lambert sounds like Jeff Buckley reincarnated. “Soaked” is gloriously heavy-handed, but its twin, album closer “Broken Open,” utilizes a subtle, Radiohead-inspired electronic sound, and a beautiful, effectively-restrained performance from Lambert, to end the album in haunting, contemplative fashion.

There’s something to be said for the way Adam Lambert injects his unique personality into this music; this is definitely his album. Hopefully next time he’ll be able to match his admirable ambition with song craft that works all the time, rather than just some of the time.

But for a first try, “For Your Entertainment” is nothing to be ashamed of.

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