For those in need of a refresher course when it comes to American Idol, pay attention. 28-year-old Adam Lambert was the runner-up in the eighth season of America’s biggest talent show and is also, apparently, the first openly gay mainstream pop artist to launch a career on a major label in America.
Famed for his theatrical and OTT performances on the show, he has since gone on to upset most of middle America with a performance at a recent awards show that saw him desperately trying to shed the American Idol alumnus tag by rubbing his face in a man’s crotch and kissing one of his male bandmates.
Though the American public overreacted, there were many who felt that Lambert was playing the gay card too freely, creating a caricature and then getting upset when everyone called him on it. That his debut album, For Your Entertainment, was released the same week as the show and duly entered the Top 3 Stateside was maybe another reason for the performance he chose to give.
It’s almost with a sense of disappointment to say that – despite the effort put into his image – much of his debut is safe and obvious. Featuring a plethora of songwriters and producers, including Pink, Weezer‘s River Cuomo, Ryan Tedder, Muse‘s Matt Bellamy, Lady GaGa and, oddly, Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, For Your Entertainment finds Lambert still in his chameleon phase. As with his performances on American Idol, he merely apes the people he’s working with. So, he’s a high-pitched, camp rocker a la Hawkins on the excruciating Music Again; an electropop siren on GaGa’s disappointing Fever and, most hilariously, a Matt Bellamy impersonator on the so-obviously-Muse-b-side-material, Soaked (it even comes with ridiculously OTT strings and piano flourishes).
It’s when he calms down the theatrics that his voice becomes more palatable. Whataya Want From Me, the second single, has a brilliant soft-rock feel and explodes into a catchy, heartfelt chorus. If I Had You may try for risque (there’s talk of leather and guy-liner), but shouldn’t try so hard, its Max Martin-produced swathe of stuttering vocals and ’80s beats good enough to keep it in the memory bank. Ryan Tedder, meanwhile, delivers another one of those stately ballads he’s getting good at, complete with booming drums and swelling strings.
So, there are moments of interest to be found here, but too much of For Your Entertainment is music-by-numbers. Too heavily influenced by other artists – there’s also a massive whiff of Mika in his vocal style – it seems Lambert is yet to really find the sound he feels most comfortable with. On this evidence, there’s a chance he’ll remain known here (if known at all) as an American Idol alumnus for some time to come.