Breaking Open Adam Lambert – Review of CD
November 30, 2009
Okay people, enough about the “controversy.” Let’s put the focus back on what really matters – Adam’s music (and that awesome pewter nail enamel that he wore at the American Music Awards; is that an OPI color?). For Your Entertainment, Adam’s maiden CD (somehow, it seems fitting to call it that, with that star-spangled, dreamy cover-girl image on the jewelbox), delivers exactly what Adam promised – a very sexy, danceable, eclectic album. At the same time, it coheres convincingly to form what feels like an autobiographical tapestry. Beneath the flash and diverse styles, I discern Adam’s sensibility and intelligence at work.
Adam chooses songs that speak to him, and the ones he has assembled for his debut album capture that intense state of youthful desire, the fire that burns as you prowl the club scene, brimming with bravado and horniness, that tamps down in the after hours and early morning light to a yearning for love and connection. It reawakens for me the feelings I wrote about many moons ago in my first posting on wowowow, about the excitement, the aliveness of being twenty, out with friends dancing until dawn, flirting, hooking up – it’s a glittery, evanescent Floating World. As Adam says, it’s not that deep, and yet it is. After all, love and desire have fueled the arts for millennia, and these themes never grow old.
The CD yo-yos between thumping, get-off-your-ass-and-dance numbers and exquisite ballads. The constant shifting keeps the sound fresh, and the psychological contrasts are effective, making you think. “Music Again” provides the perfect launch pad for the CD, its electronic whirrs and staccato beats sounding like a dance band from Planet Fierce. Even in such an upbeat party song, the lyrics hint at a subtext. I’m so sick of living for other people – could be a declaration of coming out, not so much about his sexuality, but about taking ownership of who he is as an artist.
The mood takes a darker, kinky turn in “For Your Entertainment,” where Adam uses S&M imagery to tease his fans. It has a catchy hook, complete with the cracking of whips, and Adam’s voice takes on a more provocative edge. To my own bemusement, the commercial gloss of the song has grown on me. On a first hearing, I thought, “ugh, too Britney Spears,” but what was objectionable in a prematurely sexualized product of the star-making machinery is slightly outré fun in the hands of a 27-year-old. He wants to work us until we’re totally blown? Bring it on!
Impressively, the album keeps ratcheting up the catchiness and energy level in each subsequent up-tempo tune (with the exception of “Strut”, which just doesn’t do it for me). “Sure Fire Winners” takes us back to Planet Fierce with its driving, electronic pop pop rhythms, sassy vocals and attitude. All the girls in the club wanna know, where did all their pretty boys go? When Adam’s in the club, none of us stands a chance! He gets in some banshee wails too, right out of the Zodiac Show. And what a great final chorus, with his voice processed and sounding like a radio transmission from the edge of the galaxy: Gonna take you to the top to the brink of what you believe.
“If I Had You” and “Pick U Up” with their pounding, primal disco beats, induce a total flashback to my club days. This is music for shaking up the dance floor, hot, moving bodies jam-packed in gender-melding eruptions of Eros. But these are just warm-ups for the red-hot sizzler on the album. “Fever” is a knock-out. It deserves to be a huge hit. It grabs you by the nether regions from the first aggressive drum beat and mine mine mine and never lets go. My freakiest hat is off to Lady Gaga. She’s a brilliant songwriter, and genius producer, based on what she gets Adam to do on this track. This one goes on my infinite re-wind. Dust off the red shoes. I could dance to this until my feet are bleeding.
Adam has spoken about this album as being fun, about feeling sexy and wanting to get up and dance. He’s underselling it, and perhaps that’s because there is still a vulnerability there about exposing his emotional core. But that’s the part that blows me away, and they are embodied in the slow tracks: “Whataya Want From Me,” “Soaked,” “Loaded Smile” and the final three tracks form a narrative arc of longing, loss, recovery and redemption.
In the wake of the AMA debacle, it’s impossible not to interpret “Whataya Want From Me” through the lens of Adam as Bambi caught in the headlights of a merciless media monster looking for its next victim. It’s a strong relationship song, but it packs an added emotional punch through this accident of timing. Adam on Letterman, looking gorgeously frayed and vulnerable, and then singing the guts out of this song, will be how I remember this one. (I am struck by how the plaintive solo guitar line that opens this song doubles the vocal line. Wonder if that is Monte playing. Feels like he has Adam’s back.)
“Soaked” has that bombastic, overwrought quality of Muse that I can never decide whether I like or not. (I must like, I keep listening to it…) All that operatic emoting with the string section seems a bit much for a one-night stand, but then again, when you are in your twenties, overflowing with erotic energy, a one-night stand can be Epic. This is club prowler as Lawrence of Arabia. Okay, I’m on board with that. It helps that this is one of the songs on the album where you can fully sink into the velvety power of Adam’s voice.
“Loaded Smile” – what can I say? This song is perfect. Sexy, seductive, heartbreaking. Adam’s falsetto is ethereal and so beguiling it should come with a warning label. If I say I’m sorry, It’s just me telling a lie, then he let’s loose with a kittenish coo that leaves me in a puddle. I love the middle-east inflected electronic maelstrom in the middle with sampled voices bouncing around inside a sonic tin can, the jibbering of the subconscious. Adam’s voice emerges out of this sonic whirlwind like a soaring white dove to deliver the devastating ending: a loaded smile, an empty glass, one last dance (you can almost hear hearts cracking).
“Sleepwalker” is a ballad aching with love lost, love unreturned. This is the heartbroken Adam that opened our floodgates with Tracks of My Tears. “Aftermath” is an anthem of defiance, of picking yourself up when you fall, of finding yourself. It teeters on the brink of cheesiness, but my skeptical self (which has been cowering in a dark corner these past six months since Adam took over my mind) is won over by his sincerity. You just know he is singing about his own life. These lines aptly capture the personal journey Adam has sent me on, and when he sings all you feel is love, you feel it in your gut:
Before you break you have to shed your armour
Take a trip and fall into the glitter
Tell a stranger that they’re beautiful
So all you feel is love, love
All you feel is love, love
And finally, “Broken Open”. Alongside “Loaded Smile”, this is the one that pierces my soul. The delicate plink of piano and deep bass beats enveloped in a diaphanous cocoon of electronic sounds, form a perfect vessel for Adam’s voice, tender and vibrant. That soft, insistent thrumming – it’s the rhythm of desire. His delicate falsetto reverberates like the song of an angel drifting through the universe, offering healing and peace. His voice weaves a lush flying carpet of unfettered love, inviting you to lie down, open yourself up and entrust yourself to the Cosmos.
Dear reader, this is not a “review” per se of the CD, but simply my personal response and reflections. I sleepwalked through most of the popular music of my life, so please don’t shoot me if I made comments that would strike any pop music expert as uninformed, idiotic and beneath contempt. In fact, just ignore them. They are beneath your contempt.
Okay, now that we have gotten that disclaimer out of the way, I will venture out on the flimsy limb of my musical taste and opinions. Adam’s singing is impeccable, and there are enough vocal fireworks to satisfy. He packs an emotional punch packaged in all that glitter. And he makes me get up and dance like Lady Gaga. What more could a girl ask for?
Not to be greedy, but here’s my Dear Adam holiday wish list:
1) I enjoy the synthetic sounds on this CD, but I find myself hungry for a recording that showcases your natural voice. Then again, you may have heeded the advice that you should hold your voice in reserve; this CD certainly leaves me craving more.
2) I was initially disappointed that the lyrics weren’t wittier, more complex and interesting, but then again, upon re-listening, I am finding the whole to be much greater than the sum of the parts, so something about this is working.
3) You should take some time to explore what you want to express next, time to grow and mature, learn about current affairs, read a few good books, meet interesting people, and get beyond “it’s not so deep”. You have the potential to go deeper. Then again, you’re so good at making me libidinous and happy. Maybe that’s enough.
4) Find a producer who can help you develop a unique and coherent style. How about Lady Gaga?
5) The songs that struck me as having the most contemporary, infectious sounds were Music Again, Fever, Sure Fire Winners, Loaded Smile and Broken Open. With eyes closed, the artists they evoke for me are Mika and Goldfrapp. I would love to see you team up with them.
6) Please make a Hanukah album next year! We need to deep-six the dreidel song. There are some glorious melodies that could turn this pseudoholiday into a proper source of Jewish pride. Start by raiding and updating Handel’s Judas Maccabeus. There must be some great Sephardic melodies too that would fit right alongside Ring of Fire. Festival of lights!! C’mon. This is right up your alley. I’ll make a deal: You re-do the music, and I’ll re-do the food.
Juneau writes about neuroscience, physics and whatever else attracts her peripatetic attention. She is co-author with Xena of On the Meaning of Adam Lambert, and co-hostess of this Salon.
Interview by Lyndsey Parker About Adam’s Music Feb 2, 2010