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

November 19, 2009 |  3:06 pm

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

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