Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Third time's the charm - and then some on The Original High

Adam Lambert has never been shy as a performer.  His first 2 albums "For Your Entertainment" and "Trespassing" practically bled glitter right out of the speakers.  But he has come a long way since then.  "For Your Entertainment" was catchy, but felt a bit calculated and all over the place - clearly rushed out to capitalize on the notoriety he'd gained from American Idol.  "Trespassing" had a similar schizophrenic feel, where attempts to keep the variety going made a mess of things in the process, and lead to a less than perfect album.

On "The Original High" Lambert sounds more at home in his own skin as a pop singer than he has before.  Pulling in Max Martin & Shellback to exec produce helps a great deal as the overall sound feels more cohesive front to back.  This is apparent from the get-go, with the plaintive electric guitar that opens up "Ghost Town" that later bleeds into a full on synth-pop rave up that is pure un-cut Lambert glitz pouring out of the speakers.  One could also argue that having spent the time he has singing with the surviving members of Queen, that some of their experience has rubbed off on him.  Freddie Mercury was every bit as over the top as Lambert is - the difference was that when he and Queen were at the height of their powers, they knew how to channel that over the top energy into what became some of their biggest hits ever.  Lambert has clearly picked up a few helpful hints from that playbook on this album.  At times, it is simply a learned subtlety he was lacking on previous songs.  Where Trespassing boasted the mawkish and too-forward "Underneath" - this time around, he offers up a confessional-but-not-really ballad in the form of "Things I Didn't Say."  Speaking of Queen, Brian May shows up to add a welcome layer of crunch to the proceedings on "Lucy."  It is for all intents and purposes a classic "girl gone bad" ballad, but having May along to sharpen things up keeps it from turning into just another producer-centric track that would otherwise be quite forgettable.  This is another area where the album shines - Shellback & Max Martin are well known for the pop stars they have worked with before, but here they sound reinvigorated, not as if they are simply copying their past musical soundscapes and just layering Lambert's vocals on top.  Whether that comes from Lambert pushing them with his own talent or just sheer dumb luck, it hardly matters when the end result is so well put together.  This album also features an unexpected thing - the phrase "haterade" being used in a song and not sounding totally ridiculous (on the Tove Lo featuring "Rumors")  And while "Evil In The Night" hails from much the same wheelhouse as "Ghost Town" - that doesn't make it any less catchy and addictive as a slice of pure pop heaven.  On these songs, Lambert sounds more comfortable in his own skin than he has before.  Between his more intuitive knowledge on how best to use his vocals - be they reserved or switched into skyscraping grandiosity + working with apt pop producers who are able to wrap those vocals in an appealing package, all the sweet spots are hit here with ease.

On The Original High, Lambert is still mining the same territory of love lost, love found, and all the pitfalls and joyous moments in between, but this time he is filtering it with just the right amount of restraint to filter out any mawkishness or awkward moments.  It just flat out works, beginning to end.

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