Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hop the fences and sneak in for some Trespassing

"I can be obnoxious at times / try and see my heart" Adam proclaims in lead single "Better than I know myself".  Couldn't describe the album better.  It's all Adam, all dialed up way past maximum (and one would be fool to expect any less from him) - and when he shows some heart, it's great.  When he crashes past the boundaries of good taste, it gets a bit awkward.

Early interviews quoted Adam as saying that "For Your Entertainment" was rushed, that he was told he had to get it out fast before people forgot him.  So what does this, an album he had time to work on - sound like?

The glam-rock overtones are dialed back in favor of a synth-dance sound that treads a 50/50 balance between the electro-pop of the current day and a decidedly retro sound elsewhere.

The title track kicks off the album with a hand-clap-heavy club banger that struts, swaggers, and demands you pay attention.  The Neptunes are a perfect fit to produce - they have long shown themselves to be adept at spinning dance-pop gold (even as they delved into the weird with their experiments as N.E.R.D.) and they provide the perfect backdrop for Lambert's careening, over-the-top vocals.  Next up, he goes "Cuckoo" for what is arguably the best track on the whole album -  dance numbers and ballads alike.  It's lyrically a combo of everything Lambert usually sings about, and it's frenetic, schizoid, all over the place, yet undeniably catchy all at once - not an easy feat to pull off.

The Nile Rodgers-assisted "Shady" shows a slowed-down glitz - it's Adam Lambert doing Timberlake - and doing it better than Timberlake has in quite a while - truly, this track is good enough to make one wish there were a few more like it on the album.  Sam Sparro pops in for a brief verse, not overshadowing - just giving a nice dose of variety to the tune.
"Kickin In" ramps the speed back up - again aping the Timberlake style, but sounding a bit cluttered because of the layered vocals.
"Naked Love" is a far more coy and sweet track than the title might make one think - and it pulls off a bizarre trick of sounding at times like the hook of "For the longest time" - even if only for a "Blink-and-you'll-miss-it" space of seconds.

The second half cuts into full-on glamazon ballad territory.  It's overblown at times, sure, but this is a mask Lambert wears well.  Other critics have savaged lead single "Better than I know myself" for being too "slathered with today's pop gloss" - which is only half true - and isn't really something I'd say as a criticism.  Yes, it gets a little too busy during the chorus, but the rest of the time it works as one of those gently rolling stripped-down songs that gives the voice room to breathe - and positioned as it is against a radio scene that is not heavy on ballads of any kind, it's a chance-taker as a first single any way you slice it.

"Broken English" is a skittering, stalking-down-a-dark-hallway ballad that could have easily come straight out of a Bond movie.

"Underneath" pushes the over-wrought confessional routine to the breaking point - and while it does this shows Adam still has some lessons to learn.  When he starts talking about "such a beautiful release" (And you can fill in the rest from there) - it's jarring in a song that is otherwise poignant.  Yes, the whole thing is over-sung in a "pitch the voice up to the rafters" style - but Lambert is hardly the first person to sing that way, and surely won't be the last.

Overall, Lambert clearly benefits from having the time to put an album together without feeling rushed.  The truly impressive thing will be in seeing his ability to construct these confections in future works with more independence - he has co-writing credits on a few, but leaning less on collaborators in the future would show his true potential.  For now, he can be counted on for reliable, classier-than-usual dance pop - and there's nothing wrong with that.

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