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Album review: Adam Lambert's 'For Your Entertainment'

Adam LambertAmerican Idol

LAMBERT_FYE The 'Idol' runner-up goes for it all in his major label debut, with the help of the Hollywood pop A-list. The results are mixed, but never a bummer.

To point out Adam Lambert’s boutique addiction is to reinforce a gay stereotype, but Lambert himself enjoys playing around with preconceived notions, and that includes proudly showing that there's depth and self-awareness beyond those stereotypes. Lambert's other clear goal as a newly minted pop star is to celebrate all aspects of the word "play": pleasure, performance, flirtation, virtuosity, masquerade. That's what he does on this quickly assembled yet purposeful major label debut.

"For Your Entertainment" is a polished affair, but stylistically, it shows Lambert running loose like a kid in a Comme des Garçons store. With the Hollywood pop A-list at his disposal, he chose to go for it all: The only names missing from his list of collaborators are those firmly in the R&B camp (wouldn't it be great if he worked with fellow drama club type Ne-Yo?) The results on "FYE" are inevitably mixed, but never a bummer; Lambert's deft enough to avoid getting stuck in any one of the tropes he explores.

On many tracks, Lambert stretches himself by putting on the style of his more seasoned collaborators. He's pleading and soulful on the Pink co-write, sneering on the song Rivers Cuomo tossed his way, moody when it comes to parsing Muse and appropriately silly on the neo-glam crusher penned for him by Justin Hawkins, formerly of the English band the Darkness. Versatility is Lambert's strategy here, one he might consider changing in the future -- when the material's second-rate, it sinks him a bit. 

Ryan Tedder, for example, gives Lambert a real throwaway, and the song co-written by "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi only goes halfway in expressing the healthy carnality he champions. Much better is "Fever," gifted him by his soulmate Lady Gaga, which Lambert offers as a straight-ahead, guilt-free cry of love.

Lambert resorts to the basics in his wardrobe to come back to himself as a performer. The killer wail is his little black dress -- when in doubt, he always can return to those Olympian high notes to remind listeners why it let him get to first base with them on "Idol" -- and a nod and a wink make up his casual ensemble. Returning to both throughout "FYE," Lambert comes off as somewhat elusive emotionally, and that might bother some fans, especially those who wanted him to occupy a particular position (like rock's freaky liberator or old-fashioned savior).

It's tough to balance wit with theatricality, especially in pop, where big statements usually tend toward the earnest and the sorrowful. When Lambert does work to be heartfelt, he tends to lay back. Two outstanding tracks on "For Your Entertainment" -- "Broken Open," which Lambert co-wrote, and Linda Perry's "A Loaded Smile" -- are calmly rendered ballads that blend the ethereal lushness of Eurodisco with the upwardly mobile elegance of the New Romantics.

It would be great to hear a whole album from Lambert exploring this way of reworking pop balladry. For now, though, he's keeping his options open. And that's fine: His line of credit should extend for a while.

-- Ann Powers

Adam Lambert
"For Your Entertainment"
19/RCA Records
Three stars (Out of four)

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Photo credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (51)

I've been seeing this guys face everywhere and couldn't figure out the appeal and how he gets so much press. Now after learning he was a contestant on the American Mediocrity I totally understand.

In my opinion Ryan Tedder gave Adam the best song on the album. "SleepWalker" is haunting, beautiful and shows Adam's creativity and uniqueness. The great thing about this album is that everyone finds different favorites but we
still love the whole album.

Ann, I love your work, but this review was difficult to follow. Are you asking Adam to pick one genre of music and stick with it? But isn't that what made listening to the album so much fun? You didn't have to skip tracks because there was so much on there, and it was amazingly cohesive. Frankly, I'd be bored out of my mind with an entire album of "Broken Open" or an exploration of pop ballads. Adam sets out to entertain and he does with this album.

So far, I've seen too many reviewers projecting their own personal musical tastes onto Adam in their reviews, which of course is humorous because everyone prefers a different track. Although this is by no means a bad review, I'm slightly disappointed to see the same happening here. Adam was never going to live up to any "saviour" expectations. He just had to stay true to himself, and he has.

I really like Sleepwalker, among my faves alongside Broken Open, Soaked, SFM, Fever and Music Again. I think it has potential to be big as a single on it's own away from the brilliant circus that is this album.

Can't believe he produced such a solid first album in less than 2 months. With the exception of Aftermath and TFM (which should've been replaced with Master Plan or one of the other bonus tracks), his album is ACE. It'll prob. be mindblowing live.

He has Smashing Pumpkins' Lisa Harrington in his band, Madonna's bassist, Tommy Joe and Yellowcard drummer LP. He did well.

Not to mention the contributions from Paul McCartney's band, MJ's guitarist, Weezer, Pink, Muse, Greg Wells, Gaga, Cavallo, Justin Hawkins...

Wonder where he bought that toupee???

Not a hater but it sounds lame!

sorry dude --expected a lot more from you --my bad.

Ann, Great review. I personally don't think there are any throw aways on this album. It is so interesting with all the different influences and at the core of it all is Adam Lamberts amazing voice. I can't wait to see the visuals he will put to some of these songs. I think this is definitely an album I will play over and over for a while. I love the overall playful mood of the disc. He makes you want to dance, cry and laugh. Thanks Adam!!!

In numerous interviews Adam stated he wanted to try different styles of music and that there would be something for everyone. He seems to have accomplished that. Reading different reviews each music blogger has had a favorite and I do believe every song on that CD has become a favorite of one music critic or another. I think the same thing will happen to the public at large when they purchase the cD.

Best review I've read yet. And I agree about Linda Perry's "A Loaded Smile". A sleeper. To bad it will only be a hit of true aficionados of the calm, cool and collectedly troubled. Adam has to sell records first. So yes, he played it safe in some areas by taking in current pop name-sake value like Gaga, Muse, Cavallo....etc, because that's what will get you top 40 air-play.

But, I also think he stamped his own identity on each and every song, almost as a tease for what is to come (after he's proven himself on the charts and also as a writer). Right now is the period for just taking a step at a time.

At this point, nothing else matters except that Adam Lambert has made me a fan and I'd listen to anything he had to sing, even if it were just his take on the Happy Birthday song. The future? Hmmmmmm...surprize us Adam.

I don't even know what you are saying. But your rude dismissive comment about Sleepwalker unveils your complete absence of knowledge and self promoting blabbery motive.

Sleepwalker's primary author is Aimee Mayo who worked her guts out for six months to write a song (all on her own with her husband Chris) to humbly offer Lambert.Yes Ryan co-wrote as they are FRIENDS. When she's stuck on a song her kids say "Mom, call Ryan". She said he inspired her to write again and she never even met him. As famour and accomplished as she is, she was smitten.

We followed her rollercoaster ride on Twitter. She was over the moon when they added a cello. Her tears when he accepted the song. And her outside -in- the -middle -of- the -night celebration thanking the universe for the track making the album.

She's a Sleepwalker, you know. A vampire who writes books and songs.

Amy said "The music business has broken my heart 1000 times" but that Adam Lambert healed it.

So Ann, you see, your condescending uninformed hurtful drivel does not just boost your blog hits and sabotage Adam Lambert's debut album which was completely HIS artistic vision, phrase by phrase, bar by bar and layer by layer. But it diminishes the lives of all those who worked so hard to contribute to him and offer their art to the world.

But don't worry about Aimee. The music business has broken her heart 1.000 times and nothing about this throwaway review will hurt her. Her dog died yesterday, so her heart is following him over to the other side, and it's unlikely she'll ever see this.

As far as I am concerned, Adam's album is a case of bait and switch. I'm glad I have the videos and studio recordings of the songs he did on AI, because the guy we thought was going to pick up where Freddie Mercury left off, instead threw out a bunch of imitation music, using gimmicky auto-tune on a voice that didn't need it, so that his album is a here today, gone tomorrow, forgettable bargain bin classic, instead of the sort of stuff that Queen might put out, which WILL Live Forever.

Big disappointment! I know he doesn't think that those of us who supported him on AI are entitled to anything, but then neither is he. If he thinks that I am taking this too seriously, then I think that he should have taken it more seriously than to squander his talent. I have not canceled my order for his album, but I'm very close to doing so.

ann, thank u for this very thoughtful review. i find adam's album to be very difficult to characterize and it think your comment about the its emotional elusiveness is one of the reasons. but then again that's adam: he is a multiplicity of personal and vocal and musical attributes and attitudes; someone who continues to surprise and morph before our eyes. i have listened to the album a few times now, and each time my preferences/opinions of songs change. i find that hard -- but think it is a good thing! it is challenging; there r types of music i don't particularly like, but then i find his sound embedded, or a great rif, or it's just so catchy that i can't get it out of my head. i think he is just a one of a kind artist and an outsized talent. and btw, love the clothing metaphor u run throughout the piece!

I think Adam's CD is amazing. It is eclectic and interesting and complex, like the man himself. I do not understand why critics are so quick to criticize someone putting a top 40 hit tune from curent popular writers on their album. Adam said that he loves pop music, so why not? He has to increase his fan base and get radio play. The mixtures of music styles, interesting lyrics, and vocal skills on this disc are nothing short of amazing. I personally love the songs that he cowrote, (the ones you like)and I think Adam has great potential in that area. I love Sleepwalker written by primarily Aimee Mayo. It is not a throwaway, but has big hit potential written all over it.
I think the CD will sell well. Interesting how each critic has picked different songs as their "favorite." That says a lot about Adam's choices. I am looking forward to seeing Adam around for a long time. He has made me want to listen to music again!

I've been listening to his album all day using Ilike.com This is a really great CD! I usually like 3-4 songs on an artists new CD but with Adam Lambert's FYE I love each and every one of them. It gives me a variety and it takes you on a little ride. I really, really hope he does another soon. I love how he changed things up. His ballad Broken Open is so sweet. Many of the songs I expect to hear on the dance floor come next Friday! Such great dance songs. He certainly keeps you guessing and I'm loving it.

I fell in love with Adam Lambert & his awesome talent during his time on AI, a show I didn't usually watch. But after I heard him perform Ring of Fire, I followed the rest of the show, and have followed him ever since, including 2 Live Tour stops over the summer. When I first heard the 30 second snippets of this album I was hugely disappointed, BUT since the album has been streaming live I have been listening to it repeatedly and am in love with it. Even the songs I didn't like at first, I have come to love. And for those of us that ordered the collectors edition, we have heard Master Plan, which didn't make the album, but gets me up dancing as soon as it plays. What I love about FYE is that there is a little something for every taste, EXACTLY what Adam promised us. My favorites are Sleepwalker, Fever, Broken Open, If I Had You, Whataya Want From Me....but honestly I find myself getting into every song as it plays and I am constantly humming the title track in my head!!! For me...Adam delivered exactly what he promised: something for everyone that would entertain us and get us dancing and talking! He did, and we are!

Ooooh....can't stand this....guy???

I don't understand your review. Adam's FYE by his own words is eclectic and he owns each and every song on it with his outrageously amazing voice which is the common thread throughout. Why do you want to put him in a box. What is so amazing about Adam is that he is so real and that the passion he has for music comes through on every song he sings and in every performance he gives. His amazing voice to the arrangement to the lyrics to the instruments are exciting and new and just fantastic. I cannot stop listening to each and every song, Pick U Up, Soaked and Surefire Winners got to me first, But a Loaded Smile is hauntingly beautiful as is Broken Open. Then Fever, If I had you, Music Again, and Whataya Want From Me made me go beyond loving this album. There is not one song that I do not love. I respect your review except for the one ridiculous comment "Lambert comes off as somewhat elusive emotionally." What have you been listening to? What make me so absolutely in love with Adam's music is that he does connect emotionally with his music whether it is glam/rock or ballads. He just touches your soul. His songs make me dance, sing cry and laugh. Who else but Adam can do that. No one.

@cacatua - Please learn the difference between a synthesizer and auto-tune, and then come back.

Oh, and Ann, don't worry about the "media bias" poster. S/he is always being an unbearable a**hole over at AdamOfficial.com and never has anything nice to say about anyone who doesn't agree with 100% of his/her opinions. :)

I have to disagree with your description of Adam's songs on his debut album. I find you are unfairly critical of some of the best songs to ever be on any album in decades. There isn't one bad song on the entire album. And I don't think you understand that people are tired of same ole same ole sound from track to track to track on and on. Snooze time..Adam gives us versatility something you seem to frown upon. There are so many 'cookie cutter" pop artists who lack what Adam has to offer. U r too tough on this album. It's obvious you don't know music. Take a music class then try and come up with a good critique.

What do you mean when his music is 2nd rate?

@cacatua I was really suprised when reading your comments. Have you truly listened to this album? Do you not hear Adam's voice in every song? Just like when he did ring of fire & mad world. These songs each in their own way are just as deep, meaningful & heartfelt as the songs he did on AI. Seriously sit back & hear his voice. I wondered how "his" music would sound in comparison to AI. I loved him on AI and I LOVE "his" music I have not been dissappointed at all! Some of the songs I had to listen to more than once but I swear the more you listen the more they grow on you. I can't help it when he sings I get goosebumps!! Beautiful album Adam!!!!

I can't figure out if you think Adam and his team over all did a good job or not with his debut. Would you recommend it to a non idol fan friend? That is what I can't figure out. I THINK you like it.

Ann, I've always enjoyed reading your articles regarding Adam, but I think your way off the mark regarding Sleepwalker. It's one of my favorite tracks on the album, as it is for many people on the blogs. It's a radio friendly song, and he sounds so sexy singing it. I can't wait to see him sing it live, it'll be incredible. Also, regarding the first sentence in the last paragraph, did you expect him to do a complete album of ballads? I'm not quite sure what you meant here.

Honestly I am shocked that you called Sleepwalker a throwaway song!!! Its such a stunning song with heartbreaking lyrics and his vocals are emotional and touching. I thought Sleepwalker shouldve been the first single off the album. I agree about Loaded Smile and Broken Open though.

I dont understand why Adam has to box himself into one genre. The reason we loved Adam on Idol was because he could sing any genre and change it up and make it fun. I really hope he continues to make albums like this. I want him to have commercial success but I also think he needs to have artistic integrity and stay true to himself so if that means he wont be commercially successful and radio stations wont play his music, oh well, his fans will remain loyal because he is doing exactly the thing we fell in love with him for.

Ryan Tedder's Sleepwalker is one of the best tracks on the album. I like it a lot better than some of the others.

I'm sorry ... I'm having a hard time following this review ... which song do you feel is second-rate? I've listened to this entire album streaming on ilike over and over and I can't find anything second-rate about it. Each song is in and of itself a joy to listen to ... none of which sounds anything like any other on the album and yet so pleasant to listen to. "A Loaded Smile" reminds me of the music Al Green sang back in the day only it has a more ethereal sound therefore giving a more current vibe. IMO this album sounds more like a collection of GREATEST HITS by ADAM rather than a first release ... BTW ... I've been listening to music a LOT LONGER than you have and I've heard almost all of the GREATS and IMO ADAM ranks right up there with the BEST of them bar none! JMO

 
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