The gay Idol’s sophomore CD reminds us why we first loved Adam Lambert
3.5 out of 5 stars
Whether to prove himself as a major player or to shed any remaining bits of American Idolatry, Adam Lambert brought in some big guns to help in his second full-length studio release, Trespassing. Bruno Mars, Pharrell Williams and Sam Sparro are some of the familiar names that join Lambert this time around, but the album is distinctly his. The gay glam boy shows his mettle — and it’s mostly heavy.
Lambert explodes out of the gate like a champion with the title opener. The bass beat is hard and made heavier by the blazing guitar riffs, but Lambert’s voice is the star. Williams teams with the singer creating a strong start with its addictive chorus and beats. And Lambert is keen on proving his rocker gay side while keeping a dance flair for his pop audiences.
Where his collab with Williams is winning here, a later track, “Kickin’ In,” is out of control. The frenzied song has zero gravity and the cheerleader-y chorus dumbs down their talents big time.
Tag this as “most embarrassing track” and press “skip.”
Coincidentally, the same befalls the Sparro pairings. The gay singer brings his innovative pop perspective to Lambert’s team on “Shady,” a strong track that has evident Sparro-esque touches without taking away from Lambert. The groove is patient but not glacially paced like their second collaboration, the ninth track, “Broken English.” While the sound is massaged into a languid state, it brings the album to a shocking halt like someone pulled the plug on a treadmill; we’re left bruised trying to figure out what just happened.
Perhaps it’s fortuitous, then, he limited Bruno Mars to one track only — the satisfying single “Never Close Our Eyes.” Even with major players in tow, Lambert keeps his identity and sound intact on the CD, though you definitely hear the brilliance of Mars’ talents in small touches like the acoustic guitar against the heavy dance beat or lyrics such as Why can’t we just live life with no consequence / And always live in the now. But the album is all Lambert’s.
He makes us want to dance with tracks like the electronica-laden “Cuckoo,” which pushes all the right buttons. In a goofy way, he perpetuates his rebel-without-a-cause image, emphasizing naughty language such as “cocks” and “fuck,” but he backs it up with a well-constructed melody.
Lambert repeats that formula with the edgy dance rocker “Pop That Lock.” Mixing his glam with some tortured electric beats a la Skrillex, this is the image he strives so much for and achieves.
His gift is keeping a song interesting even when it reeks of cliché. The writing team behind “Better Than I Know Myself” channel their inner Diane Warren for this electro-ballad. The song is the stuff inspirational montages are made of for an episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass or Extreme Home Makeover. Still, Lambert shows heart in his singing and keeps it afloat. The same goes for the stripped-down “Underneath” and the misstep “Outlaws of Love:” Lambert is sexy on the former, but the drama yawns from the latter which is a tragic fate to end the album’s dozen tracks.
But wait, there’s more!
No pop star would be complete without the special edition of their own new album — you know, instead of just putting the tracks on the regular listing. Lambert is no exception. Three extras add to the deluxe package.
He scores big with “Runnin,’” which rocks in all the right areas and has some of that intensity that we hear often from fellow AI alum Kelly Clarkson. There is an epic quality to the track and displays a matured song construction. While other songs grabbed my attention, this song demanded immediate repeats.
Following up with “Take Back,” the album forgets the buzzkilling “Outlaws.” Lambert flexes big time muscle and takes home the trophy with this track and we’re back on a big up. These two tracks make the special edition a worthy purchase. Glamberts will already get this version, but he expands his talents superbly here.
Having said that, he repeats the same earlier mistakes by the finishing off with the dragging “Nirvana.” The song deflates all that great energy we worked so hard to enjoy. But Lambert’s smart to take time between albums and it shows in Trespassing with major growth. This is what makes him exciting. Mistakes can be made, but he’s on the right track to really be a major influence in pop music.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 11, 2012.