photo: Freddy Main
In 2012, Adam Lambert released an excellent album that, despite its unabashedly retro groove, was ironically ahead of its time: Trespassing, a funky-fresh rollerdisco romp featuring contributions from Pharrell Williams and Chic’s Nile Rodgers. One year later, Daft Punk recruited Williams and Rodgers for a funky-fresh rollerdisco romp called “Get Lucky,” and they were all over the charts. Go figure. Sometimes, timing is everything.
But now, three years later, it seems to be Lambert’s time at last.
Sure, Lambert could have capitalized on Daft Punk’s funky success and slapped together his own album of random access memories. But, no. Instead, he has already evolved and moved on, with a new record label (Warner Bros.) and a new hypermodern sound for his sleek, sophisticated new dance-pop offering, The Original High. And true to its title, it’s his most original work yet.
It’s not like Lambert really needed a “comeback,” of course, considering that he spent his between-album/label years starring on Glee, fronting Queen on an international tour, collaborating with superstar DJ Avicii, and so on. But The Original High is indeed a triumphant return. Adam Lambert is back. It may not be the guylinered, glittery, glam-rock Adam Lambert that some people expect, but that’s OK. It’s actually more than OK.
Since his American Idol days, Lambert has always kept his audience guessing. And sure enough, The Original High is full of curveballs, depending on one’s particular brand of Lambert fandom. Those still partial to the hard rock he did when he was on Idol (come on, that was six years ago, let’s move on), as well as newly indoctrinated Glamberts who discovered him via Queen, will likely be surprised that — despite one in-studio collaboration with Queen’s Brian May — this is Lambert’s least rockist album yet. Diehard fans of the theatrical showman’s famously octave-straddling wail may admittedly miss some of his over-the-top vocal acrobatics; this album features some of Lambert’s subtlest, most nuanced performances to date. And anyone grooving on the ‘70s and ‘80s influences of Trespassing and its 2009 predecessor, For Your Entertainment, will be in for a futureshock, because despite this album’s forays into '90s-style house, The Original High is very now, very wow, and very 2015.
All that being said, fans may be surprised… but they won’t likely be disappointed. To quote a line from one of the album’s tracks, “There I Said It,” Lambert is a “grown-ass man,” and the 33-year-old has grown gracefully into his signature sound.
Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of The Original High, out June 16:
“Ghost Town” – If you own a radio, you’ve probably heard this one by now. If you haven’t, please go get a radio, stat. Then twist that FM dial and prepare to hear this hawt track on repeat between now and September. The Max Martin-produced candidate for Song of Summer 2015 isn’t just an ideal introduction to Adam’s updated sound; it’s a real pop palate-cleanser. “Ghost Town’s” unexpected and inspired mix of spaghetti-western whistling, echo-chamber vocals, acoustic guitars, and block-rockin’ beats sound like nothing on that aforementioned radio dial.
“The Original High” – After a lilting soft-rock intro reminiscent of Hall & Oates-damaged Europoppers like Phoenix and Zoot Woman, this ode to Hollywood bursts to glorious (night)life and keeps on building from there, climaxing with a crescendo of stratospheric falsettos. There’s an aching nostalgia here, as Lambert sings about his old Myspace-chronicled all-nighters (“Just make me feel the rush like first time”), but the end result is still pure euphoria. This going-out anthem is sure to be a staple on many Saturday-night playlists.
“Another Lonely Night” – The music bed of this jaunty track is misleadingly happy-go-lucky, all Sharks-vs.-Jets finger-snaps and percolating synth beats. But take a listen to the breakup lyrics, which seem to revisit that desolate ghost town in Lambert’s mind. “All I got is your ghost,” he laments. A perfect mix of happy/sad and sweet/sour, this is the coming-down track after experiencing track #2′s “Original High.” Sequencing matters, people! Don’t hit shuffle on this album.
“Underground” – This sexy, brooding R&B power ballad would not sound out of place on Nick Jonas’s new album. Except, of course… no disrespect to the youngest JoBro or anything, but no one sings like Adam Lambert. So this is some next-level stuff.
“There I Said It” – The “grown-ass man” taps into his theater background in this simple, plaintive ballad. Fans of “Whataya Want From Me” or “Better Than I Know Myself” will appreciate this one. And yes, it’s another breakup song. There’s a lot of pain on this album, but it hurts so good.
“Rumours” – This soulful, atmospheric collaboration with of-the-moment pop provocateur Tove Lov has a certain majestic Britpop quality, pushed through a hip-hop filter. Think Doves remixed by Kendrick Lamar. Yeah, it’s sort of like that.
“Evil In the Night” – This one, with its mentions of “bombs over Broadway,” probably has the most in common with Lambert’s earlier work, particularly his underrated and oft-forgotten Rivers Cuomo co-write “Pick U Up.” The chickenscratch guitar definitely has a Nile Rodgers feel, too. As Lambert sings, “My life flashed before my eyes,” it’s almost like listeners get a crash-course run-through of his entire discography. Everything old is new again.
“Lucy” – This marks the first time that Lambert has recorded with his Queen crony Brian May, so “Lucy” is unsurprisingly this album’s most rocking, most guitar-heavy cut. It’s quite massive, and it’s badass, with a bit of a later-period Fall Out Boy feel. Light 'em up, everyone.
“Things I Didn’t Say” – Oh hey, it’s another breakup song. Assuming these songs are autobiographical, Lambert has definitely taken whatever lemons life has given him and made pink lemonade. This upbeat pop workout makes regret sound like so much fun.
“The Light” – Get out the glowsticks. This is the full-on rave epic, a Burning Man partystarter, with its many mystic references to the elements. “I am the light,” Lambert intones over bowel-rumbling, stuttering witchhouse beats, basically sounding like some sort of god. I’d say I can’t wait to hear the remixes of this one, but it already sounds like a remix of a remix.
“Heavy Fire” – The party slows down with this slinky, hypnotic, vaguely industrial-sounding track. Heavy stuff, indeed. And it’s one of The Original High’s most operatic offerings, showcasing Lambert’s crazy vocals in a bold way that some of the album’s other cuts do not.
“After Hours” (bonus track) – Lambert has a long history of releasing album bonus tracks that really should just be regular tracks. This sultry, downtempo offering, a minimalist slow-burner reminiscent of the Weeknd, Sam Sparro, and the xx, is no exception. Make sure you buy the deluxe version of The Original High.
“Shame” (bonus track) – Lambert goes totally pop on this one. Katy Perry or Lily Allen could record this and it would make complete sense. A Technicolorful, top-down-convertible romp, it’s totally the sound of summer. “Shame” may be fluffier and cuter than some of the album’s other tracks, but lines like “I don’t mind a little pain when I’ve really earned it” reveal a darker core behind the neon-bright peppiness of it all.
“These Boys” (bonus track) – The album’s campiest cut, which probably explains why it’s only a bonus track, this one has a sassy Scissor Sisters feel; it definitely hearkens back to the Trespassing vibe. Some things about Adam Lambert change, and some things thankfully stay the same.