A Restrained Adam Lambert Soars on “Original High”

Writing a review Adamof a new Adam Lambert album always creates an identity crisis for me. Do I write from my self-indulgent wanna-be music critic side? Or do I take the path of least resistance, which is to unloose my fawning fangirl?

Adam is nothing if not always true to himself as an artist and with that as my inspiration, I will follow suit, and by “follow suit” I mean I will fangirl with occasional bouts of objectivity.

First, a little history[1]. Adam’s Idol run in 2009 fortuitously coincided with a huge TV audience[2] and a music business that still had a decent heartbeat. Bolstered by that and the music media’s fascination with him, e.g. covers on Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, and MTV and VH-1 reporting on his every move, his debut album For Your Entertainment opened at #3 on Billboard and sold just shy of 900,000 copies.

His second album Trespassing opened at #1 and delighted critics as evidenced by making several Best Of lists for 2012. However, his label RCA did no promotion for the album and its sales were disappointing. Adam left the label after disagreeing with them over the direction of a third album and was scooped up by Warner Brothers immediately.

This brings us to his new release, the remarkable The Original High[3]. As he sings in the solemn and intense ballad There I Said It, “I’m a grown-ass man,” Original High is the work of an artist maturing in his craft both as a songwriter and singer. While drawing on the best elements of For Your Entertainment and Trespassing, Adam’s superstar production team of hit makers Max Martin and Shellback successfully pushed him to accomplish more with less this time around.

Like For Your Entertainment, the new album covers a diverse range of genres within pop music: several varieties of dance including a Chic-like disco throwback (Evil In The Night); rock (the dark Lucy featuring Brian May of Queen), theatrical ballads that would make Celine Dion proud; Hall and Oates-meets-Evanescence (Underground); and the album’s first single Ghost Town which, frankly, defies categorization.

Like Trespassing, its sound is a few years ahead of what’s currently popular. The production by Max Martin and Shellback is far more sophisticated than what they’ve done for their usual cast of characters like Katy, Britney or even Taylor, for that matter. There’s a lot going on sonically in every song. Some may find it a distraction and to be fair, I was put off the first time I heard the single Ghost Town. I am addicted to it now and I find it refreshing to hear an entire album of pop music that’s pushing boundaries.

But several things are really new. Vocally, we are presented with a much more restrained Adam than we’ve been used to. Max Martin wisely asked Adam to show the softer, more emotional and textured part of his vocals. Yes, we still get the force-of-nature, atmosphere-penetrating moments that we’ve come to love. But Original High has less of those and more melancholy, wistfulness, and introspection than we’ve ever heard from Adam. The result is that we hear more sides of his remarkable voice than ever, as if such a thing was possible! And when those old Adam moments show up, they’re all the more stunning.

But let’s be clear – what is ever-present on Original High is the best voice of this generation and one of the great voices of any generation. And on this album, he’s singing better than ever. Where the songs served his voice on his prior albums, on Original High his voice serves the songs. The range of vocal textures he displays in the album is extraordinary. The result is that Adam is the best storyteller that he’s ever been.

I can’t find a single misstep on this album[4]. It’s a complete package – a sort of concept album of a man finding his way into adulthood with all of the accompanying pain, regrets, things said and not said. Even the sequencing of the tracks makes complete sense.

Moreover, my prior favorite Adam songs Sleepwalker and Runnin’[5] have been superseded by The Light, a dance track that moves my spirit and body so much that it makes me dance and cry at the same time. At this writing, I’ve listened to it 4,279 times; danced like a fool to it repeatedly in a hotel room in Denver; and possibly disturbed the woman in the seat next to me on an airplane while listening to it – I did my best to sit still but it was hard.

I also love the aforementioned dark, pleading ballad Underground and the album’s title-track, the breezy disco throwback Original High. Still, mentioning favorite songs on an album so eminently listenable seems unfair to all the other songs.

Grade:  A+++

(You weren’t expecting anything else from me, were you?)


[1] We’ll start with some objectivity before we fawn and gush.

[2] Remember way back when Idol was overwhelmingly the most popular show on TV?

[3] Let the fangirling begin! Hey – I waited 200 words. I’ve been patient long enough.

[4] On the other hand, the deluxe version has three bonus tracks that seem bolted on. They’re nothing like the other songs.

[5] From For Your Entertainment and Trespassing, respectively.

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2 Comments on “A Restrained Adam Lambert Soars on “Original High””

  1. Sherri B. Says:

    This is EXACTLY what I would have expected from you, Ray…lol! 😄 I would’ve been disappointed if it had been any different. I can’t wait to buy this CD.

  2. […] [3] See my review https://idolmusings.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/a-restrained-adam-lambert-soars-on-original-high/ […]

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