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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)

So much talk about glam (there is some, of course), but this album is far more subtle than Ann Powers realizes. Listen to "Sleepwalker" a few times and it will haunt you for days. This is not an impressive review and I'm disappointed in Ms. Powers - thought she had more knowledge about music than this. This is an absolutely superb album (particularly when put in context with what's available today). I suggest Ms. Powers put it on repeat a few times and then come back with a review with more depth.

What is this gibberish? I'm a fairly intellegent reader and cannot for the life of me follow this stream of conciseness. I did manage to pull this out:

"Lambert's strategy here, one he might consider changing in the future -- when the material's second-rate, it sinks him a bit. "

Second rate. Ok Ann, yeah. Adam and his collaborators who broke their asses for the album will be so thrilled with your observation. How old are you anyway about 60? Time to have your credit cut. You're neither a journalist nor a music theorist.

BTW Rivers did not "throw it his way". He's been tweeting in excitment. You are quite patronizing and it's unbecoming. One might even call you intellectually elusive.

I agree with this review! The album is a little chaotic. I think a lot of people expected classic rock from Adam. He's said repeatedly that he wants to make dance pop music. He isn't the next Freddie Mercury. He's just himself.

I usually agree with you, Ms Powers, when you write about Adam. I personally found this album extremely satisfying on so many levels. I can't fathom that you find any element of emotional elusiveness in this work; Sleepwalker, Broken Open, Soaked, A Loaded Smile; these songs are deeply emotional - I got tingles listening to them. Did you read the lyrics to each song? They are amazing!

I also fail to see why you would want this uber-talented, incredibly versatile young singer to pigeon-hole himself into a pop ballad genre. Sticking to one sound is NOT Adam at all; he is a musical chameleon capable of doing just about any genre you can throw at him, and why not? I love how he swings from rock to glam to techno pop to ballads - I don't know if any other singer out there today could pull this off. And vocally, oh wow.

Remember also that Adam's fan base ranges in age from pre-teens to people in their sixties & seventies and beyond! He has managed to create an eclectic mix of music on this record that will appeal to all age groups. I'm in my fifties; my daughter is 18; and we BOTH love the album; that's a significant achievement on Mr. Lambert's part.

I think this is a brilliant first album - I truly love every single song and that's a first for me. Bravo, Adam - you soar!!!

Again, a wonderfully intelligent and balanced article from Ann. It will be very interesting to see how Adam develops. Part of the problem is that so much is expected of him - he is only human and it's his debut album. I am amazed by how many of the songs I love (unusual for an album) and how they worm their way into my head and stay there, something to do with the resonance of his voice I think. I do know I haven't been excited by music like this since I was a teenager and I am now checking out Adam's collaborators out of interest. As the man himself sings 'You make me wanna listen to music again!'

Great review. I agree that people should accept that this is his lst CD and that he is a newbie in the industry, even if not in the singing department. Singing and making a CD, song picking, etc. are two different beast.

He has the chops and as he moves deeper in to the music world he will continue to grow. He is too smart to hit the repeat button over and over so, his next CD should be interesting.

I am putting my money on "Sleepwalker" as a break-out hit. The searing guitar work is exciting and gives that song a "band" feel which is a nod to rock for all of his rock fans. I also love "Fever" but hope he does not become a male Lady GaGa. She is very cool but you only need one Lady in the music world at a time and besides, he has a better voice than she does.

Glad this is JUST an opinion, I listened to the whole CD, and I was surprised that I like every track on it....this is very unusual for a CD...I have bought CD's where only one song was worth listening to...this is a nice change.
The writer of this article has a lot of words, but says nothing. I read all of her views daily, but this one she is way off....Sorry Ann...
Second rate material comment...You are kidding RIGHT! Very disappointed on your take of this masterpiece..

Ann, I normally agree with your viewpoint, yet I take exception to several comments in this review. First, I think Sleepwalker is a true standout in this CD. Its ethereal, haunting beauty shines. Second, I do not believe that Adam merely takes on the personality of the songwriter. Each song, though different in nature, is uniquely Adam. No other artist possesses his sound, emotion, or personality. Each song is his own. Further, his goal was to create an eclectic blend of music, and not be boxed in to one type of genre. He clearly achieved that goal with a beautiful mix of music.

I've listened to the album a few times and am still trying to get my head around it. I agree there are some throwaway songs, I find "Whataya want from me" and "Aftermath" annoyingly generic pop (that line "don't look back on yesterday" in Aftermath just makes me cringe each time I listen to it, it's just so horribly cliched and sounds like it should be the background track of some cheesy high school movie.)
I do think there are some great tracks as well, I really like "Fever","Music Again"," For your entertainment", "Broken open" and several others.
One thing I miss is really hearing Adam's voice, there are little snippets in the songs when you suddenly hear his distinct tone through all the electronic distortion and little spasms of pleasure wave through me. Wish there was more of that.

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I love this album too, and actually my favorite track is the one by Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), "Pick U Up," followed by "Soaked." There are a few folks above who have commented on the Ryan Tedder/Aimee Mayo/Chris Lindsey track, "Sleepwalker." I respect that they love this track but, for me, if you asked me to pick the one track that should have been replaced with something else, that would be the one. By no means a bad song as Ms. Powers has characterized it but, for me, a bit redundant. Instead, I wish there could have instead been at least one tune on the album that was pure classic rock, a la "Whole Lotta Love," which was such a hit for Adam on the tour. Maybe "Master Plan" as someone wrote above? That all said, Adam has won with this album in that some people love certain songs more, and some love others -- something for everybody, as Adam had planned.

I love Strut. I think that's one of the strongest and most fun tracks on the album actually! I keep going back to listen to that one. It's full of glam attitude and I love the beat. Oh well, to each his own I guess.

I also adore Sleepwalker. It's so beautiful and haunting. But really, the more I listen to this entire album, the more I realize what a wonderful treat each song is. I really do enjoy all the songs which is saying a lot. This is quite an accomplishment and a risk to combine so many different sounds on one album. I guess I have the same eclectic taste as Adam. What's funny about this album is I keep reading about people's favorites and they are all over the map. There doesn't seem to be consensus on the strongest songs on the album. There truly is something for almost everyone's taste.

Above everything else, this album demonstrates how brilliant a singer/artist Adam truly is. His vocals soar into the stratosphere. The control he has is just amazing along with the interpretation of the songs and just the sheer beauty of his one-of-a-kind voice. I guess that's why no matter what he sings, I continue to be blown away by him.

I am SO enjoying the debates raging over this album. It means there is actually ART in dem dar hills. However, a weakness in nearly every review I've read, including this one (sorry) is this: the reviewers clearly have listened to the album once or partially. (I found a notable exception at hitfix.com.) Either that, or they compare the music to see where it fits in with the drivel playing on the radio. YOU CANNOT DO THAT WITH THIS CD. This album is its very own thing. So, with all due respect: DJs, critics, flaky fans of every stripe, please wake up. The corporate machine has slipped up and let an entire CD full of real music, by a real singer, out the door. LISTEN!!

LOL @ calling Lady Gaga Adam's soulmate. I'm not sure he would disagree. It seems like a lot of reviewers love Adam and like the album, but don't think it was really good enough for him in every way. This feels like it falls under that umbrella.

I can't say it's something I have a problem with. I'm a die-hard Glambert. Better to have qualms with the album than the artist, IMO.

It strikes me as very strange that you have been covering the Adam Lambert story in recent months but have only been a part of the corporate establishment view of Mr. Lambert. No mention here of his "other" CD that was released on November 17, "Take One". I saw it at Walmart and purchased it. I like it. A lot. I am mystified that you have yet to mention it.

It's Adam Lambert singing songs that he did not write, so I am told. Isn't that what he did on "Idol", sing songs he did not write? Isn't that what singers do?
Sing songs and interpret them.

On his RCA project, he has multitudes of collaborators. He has them because he wanted their influence, and that influence is apparent throughout each and every song.

As a member of the free press, I assumed that in covering an artist, you should be writing about the current goings-on that are relevant to their career. So why no mention of "Take One"? Is it possible that you are merely just another pawn in promoting the material that the majors coerce you to cover?

It's been said that Adam won't receive a cent from the sale of "Take One". Excuse me, Adam has already been paid for this project. If "Take One" makes nary a cent, Adam did the job and got his paycheck. I'm sure he did not pay for sessions, musicians, etc. but he did cash the checks. The investors in this project deserve to recoup their investment as well, which is the nature of the music business.

They have produced a fine album and I for one wish them and Adam Lambert all the best in exposing as many dimensions to his talent as there are facets in a diamond.

really, really great review

I posted this comment days ago, but for some reason it never appeared:

I've been happily amazed at the number of good-to-great reviews of FYE ... and I didn't expect one of the not-so-great ones to be written by you. It IS quite a confusing review -- and I found the three-out-of-four stars at the end of the article incongruous, after reading what I thought was more of a 2½-out-of-four critique. Maybe your expectations just couldn't be met. (?) After all, you have appeared to be an enthusiastic Adam fan, and maybe -after all the hype- the CD, for you, was simply anti-climactic. (No pun intended, believe it or not!) Not that your review should be criticized -- I think some of us are just a bit baffled, after your apparent support for Adam.

I find myself feeling inexplicably similar to so many other fans, who have posted here and elsewhere -- Every time I hear the album, a different song emerges as my 'favorite.' Like others, I thought, "Okay..." after listening to certain songs for the first time ... and then, "Wow!" after another listen or two. Adam promised an eclectic album ... I was thrilled to hear that ... and I thought he delivered. I think we need to trust him on his debut CD -- After all, it was his instincts and conviction that we admired in him from the beginning.

P.S. After my most recent listen, I'm in love with "Pick U Up," a song I haven't seen on the lists of 'favorites' many fans have felt compelled to share.

P.P.S. Joely -- Love your comments. I posted somewhere a while ago that the debates raging over everything-Adam could well be a sign of greatness, since many of 'the best' have been partly defined by controversy.

So he's a louder, gayer, more in your face, obnoxious version of Sam Harris? Pick a gender AND a genre, creepy Adam, and stick with it.

have to agree with you. he was smart enuf to pool the best and his voice does have a few moments but overall I think it shallow like he is.

In my opinion, Adam shouldn't of made any of those moves because by him doing this, it makes him look very bad and a very bad influence on teenagers my age. When I first watched him perform, on American Idol I thought he had a good voice and I knew he was very unique but after I watched the AMA's, I don't care for him at all anymore. Everyone makes decisions about who they want to be, so I'm not judging him, I just think he is a bad influnce on teenagers.

I enjoyed your review and used excerpts of it on my site (giving full credit and a link of course). Just wanted you to know. Interestingly, the reviews for FYE were mixed. A link to all of the FYE reviews is here - http://www.hot-music-releases.com/hot-new-music-adam-lambert-for-your-entertainment.html


Adam @ Hot-Music-Releases.com

for me, it isn't that he didn't decide to pick-up where Freddie Mercury left off, it's that the guy that did Ring of Fire, Mad World and Feeling Good, just isn't in here. Maybe it's that these are all older material that brought out the singer in him while this 1st album just brought out the celebrity. The Pop Machine has stolen our singer and in return gave us stereotypical pop product that's discernible only by degrees from anything that Cher, Madonna, Lady GaGa et. al have put our for years. I'll try again on the second album.


not a hater but still...

Maybe it's because I'm in marketing myself......is it just me or do many of these comments sound as if they were written by the same person? I sense there's some viral marketing going on with these comments above.

I haven't heard the album, but my favorite Idol performance was "Tracks of My Tears." Adam can command the ballad form because he takes nothing for granted...not one syllable is misused or thrown away. I'd love to hear a whole album in that genre...or opera, which I suspect he can do as well. I'm older and not into the KISS-type rock and roll shock rock thing.

Adam Lambert's debut CD delivers exactly what he promised – a very sexy, danceable, eclectic album. At the same time, it coheres convincingly to form what feels like an autobiographical tapestry. Beneath the flash and diverse styles, you can discern Adam’s sensibility and intelligence at work. Adam chooses songs that speak to him, and the ones he has assembled for this album capture that intense state of youthful desire, the fire that burns as you prowl the club scene, brimming with bravado and horniness, that tamps down in the after hours and early morning light to a yearning for love and connection.

I think the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Listen to it several times, go on that emotional rollercoaster ride. He takes you on a journey that has a very moving and satisfying conclusion. I've gone into some detail on this, if readers are interested:

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