Friday, June 19, 2015

The Original High | Adam Lambert

Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and Adam Lambert should start their own celebrity clique. While American Idol was once a staple of pop culture in the United States and promised to skyrocket its winning contestants to fame, the moribund show provided only those four individuals with sustainable platforms. Lambert, as a "glam-tastic" gay man, is arguably the most surprising of the show's successes; despite declarations of acceptance, American society has never really embraced male flamboyance. (For proof, check up on the fiasco that surrounded Lambert's own 2009 American Music Awards performance.) After spending a few years as a stand-in for Freddie Mercury on a worldwide tour with Queen, though, Lambert has substituted ostentation for subdued glitz. In turn, his third full-length album, The Original High, marks his move to a refined electropop with much less attitude.

The record's club-ready production comes courtesy of mega-producers Max Martin and Shellback, the duo that produced his Top 40 hits "Whataya Want From Me" and "If I Had You." More often than not, Lambert and his production team resort to a heavyweight beats, the upbeat "nnnst-ching, nnnst-ching, nnnst-ching" club pattern, and late '90s europop. Notes from pop divas that gay men tend to gravitate toward are prevalent on this record as Lambert shoots for the top billing on disc jockeys' playlists. In particular, many tracks here sound like diluted companions to the potent collaborations between Cher and Mark Taylor (throwback to 1998's Believe).

Like Cher, Lambert has the power to be heard over the depths of production laid out by his producers. The disco-inspired title track is one of the most energized of the record's offerings, with Lambert's voice spanning a solid portion of his range over a production that could instantly fill a dance floor. His voice commands attention on the fluid "The Light" and the blossoming "Another Lonely Night," both of which stand out as attempted club bangers. Lead single "Ghost Town" is meant to be in the same vein, but it is crafted with awkward, harsh disconnects between lonely guitar-led verses and electronic choruses that ruin its momentum.

Unfortunately, it seems that Martin and Shellback's dime-a-dozen productions and Lambert's vocal displays overcompensate for the lack of substantial lyrics. The seriousness he tries to convey is dampened by tawdry lines that are sure to make listeners cringe: "So there I said it / And I won't apologize to you anymore / 'Cause I'm a grown-ass man," "You work it like there's no rules / Little criminal, I'm calling the police," "Now, I'm searching for trust / In a city of rust / A city of vampires / Tonight, Elvis is dead / And everyone's spread / And love is a satire." Even with the help of Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo, who has quickly become a miniature Sia Furler of sorts, on "Rumors," Lambert is still ill-spoken: "Get out of the gossip game / Get out of the 'haterade' / Don't, don't care about, don't care about / Don't care about the rumors."

The Original High is a tight-knit collection of cohesive tracks, minus the Brian May collaboration "Lucy," which makes a surface-level stab at May's rock background. (Despite not fitting with the rest of the tracks, it does make its mark as one of the most memorable tracks from the set.) While the songs fit together well, that doesn't guarantee that they're quality pieces of work. It seems as if Lambert's physical transformation has resulted in the loss of the spunk that made his debut album likable; gone is the larger-than-life personality that ripped through For Your Entertainment and, to a certain extent, Trespassing. Ultimately, while this record is dedicated to Lambert's chase of The Original High, it seems that his music has fallen stone-cold sober.

The Original High is out now via Warner Bros. Records. Standard and deluxe pressings are available.

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