photo: WhoSayThousands of Glamberts, myself among them, have been anticipating the arrival of Adam Lambert's second album, Trespassing, the way the paparazzi await his arrival on every red carpet, or the way Adam himself presumably awaits his latest shipment of magic space glitter from the Planet Fierce. Hard as it may be to believe, it's been (as of this writing) two years, two months, 15 hours, and 58 minutes since the release of Adam's debut album For Your Entertainment, while he's managed to keep himself in the heavily guylinered public eye via tireless touring (which made him one of the top-earning Idols of the past year); a live album and DVD; acoustic and remix EPs; appearances on reality shows like "Project Runway" and "Majors & Minors"; and a surprise Queen duet at the MTV Europe Awards so staggeringly magnificent, it practically had fans openly weeping, a lack of new studio material from His Royal Glamness has been frustrating indeed. But good things come to those who wait, and based on the four unreleased Trespassing tracks I have heard, his sophomore album is going to be good indeed.
Actually, scratch that. It's going to be great.
My first impression of the four songs, besides their obvious awesomeness, is how cohesively they hang together, even as they flip between the light and dark, the hard and soft, the upbeat and the downtempo. For Your Entertainment was an almost schizophrenic genre-hopper, with songs penned by everyone from rockers like Muse's Matt Bellamy, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, and the Darkness's Justin Hawkins, to pop songsmiths-for-hire like Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, and Linda Perry, to even actual pop stars like Lady Gaga and Pink--a hodgepodge that I thoroughly enjoyed, as FYE sort of sounded to me like the raddest K-TEL compilation ever, but something that drew ire from critics who thought the album seemed too unfocused. Well, those critics will shut up soon enough, as it seems like on Trespassing, Adam has truly found his voice. Gone is any semblance of throwback classic-rock posturing, which may disappoint early fans of his "Idol" performances of Zeppelin, the Stones, Aerosmith, Steppenwolf, et al; however, the hypermodern, glossy-but-not-too-glossy sound of Trespassing really fits Adam like a custom-made Skingraft leather jacket. This is big, shiny pop, but it's pop with an edge. Remember how Adam once described himself as "edgy, with a smile"? Yeah, it's like that.
The other major impression I have--and it's an impression that I predict will be shared by many--is how very different the other Trespassing tracks sound from the disc's already released first single, "Better Than I Know Myself." That song is a VH1-friendly power ballad along the lines of "Whataya Want From Me"--and of course, since "WWFM" was FYE's biggest (and Grammy-nominated) hit, it makes sense that something similar in vibe would be Trespassing's lead single, a reintroduction of Adam to the American mainstream. (I assume most of you reading this are already intimately familiar with "Better Than I Know Myself"; if not, go educate yourself and read my review/listen to the track HERE, and see Adam perform it for the first time on television HERE.) However, listeners who assume that "BTIKM" is representative of Trespassing won't know what hit 'em once they hear bangin' floor-fillers like the Hi-NRG disco workout "Cuckoo" and the utterly badass title track, or darker and deeper electroballads like "Broken English" and "Underneath." To borrow a line from "Trespassing," wait till ya get a load of this.
Can't wait? Well then, here are my thoughts on the four non-"BTIKM" Trespassing tracks that have trespassed my lucky, happy earholes so far...
"Cuckoo" - This is basically "If I Had You 2: Electric Boogaloo." It's the sound of Kylie Minogue, La Roux, and the Scissor Sisters chugging a case of Red Bull and then getting in a time machine set for 1977 and going to Studio 54, then getting back in that time machine, switching the dial to 1992, and heading to a rave. This is all a convoluted way of me saying that this hot track just makes me wanna dance, dance, dance. This is the jammmmm, people. "Cuckoo" is intelligent, sophisticated, unnervingly catchy electropop--as in, if it doesn't have some effect on you, then you must be dead from the neck up and/or waist down--and I will freely and dorkily admit that it had such an effect on me that one night when I was working late at the office, I merrily danced around the Yahoo! cubicle maze to it, all by myself. (I sincerely hope the security cameras weren't on.) Bonnie McKee, who co-penned most of Katy Perry's recent monster smashes ("Teenage Dream," "Last Friday Night," "California Gurls"), had a hand in this one too, and honestly, this monster is among her finest work. "Cuckoo" is just cuckoo-crazy-good, and it really ought to be Adam's next single. And I can't wait till I hear the remixes. Oh yes, there better be remixes.
"Trespassing" - Adam's ties to Queen go back to his jaw-dropping, pulse-stopping performance with them at the Season 8 "American Idol" finale (Best. Idol. Finale. Performance. Ever.), and his triumphant reunion with them at the MTV EMAs had to have had some influence on him. Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" and "We Will Rock You" are the obvious pop-culture touchstones here, considering "Trespassing's" bowel-rumbling disco bassline (so funky, I could've sworn this was the track with Nile Rodgers), syncopated handclaps, and gang-chanty intro. But other supercool drill-team favorites come to mind: I hear shades of Toni Basil's "Mickey," Frankie Smith's "Double Dutch Bus," Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation," and even the Go! Team here. And there's a heavy-breathing breakdown in the middle that features some of the sexiest panting since Donna Summer's "Love To Love You Baby," or at least since Madonna's "Burning Up," Kinky's "Más," or the Faint's "Posed To Death." I imagine if I played this Adam/Pharrell co-write in my car, it'd fog up my windows...and I know if I crank it at my next party, it'll burn up my dance floor. (Side note: I'm kind of hoping Adam will perform this one day with Queen backing him up. Just putting that idea out there. Brian May, if you're reading this, make it happen.)
"Broken English" - I know this is an obscure reference, but my first thought when hearing this dreamy, languid, slow-building slow-burner was it reminded me of a few tracks from Scritti Politti's 1999 comeback album, Anomie & Bonhomie. (I told you it was an obscure reference. Check out "Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder" to hear what I mean. I don't mean the early-'80s Scritti Politti; I mean the smooth adult pop of their later incarnation.) The more obvious reference that came to me nanoseconds later was "Diamonds & Pearls"-era Prince. And maybe some Justin Timberlake, or the incredibly underrated '90s alt-pop band Self (look them up too). And the hypnotic, slinky instrumentation even brings to mind Adam's iconic "Ring Of Fire" performance from back in the day. Sophisticated, sleek, and sultry, this mix of pop, electronica, and blue-eyelinered soul (which was co-written by Sam "Black & Gold" Sparro, who worked on Adam's darkly vampy FYE B-side "Voodoo") sounds like little else on the radio right now. Which, in my opinion, is a very good thing.
"Underneath" - This haunting ballad may not promise the sexyfuntimes of "Cuckoo" and "Trespassing," but the wintry song serves as the flipside of those summery party anthems, showcasing Adam at his most stripped and vulnerable. This is the track that really trespasses on Adam's psyche, so to speak. "Everybody wants to talk about a freak/No one wants to dig that deep/Let me take you underneath," he keens, delivering a vocal every bit as passionate and powerful as FYE's "Soaked" while somehow sounding restrained in a way he hasn't sounded since he game-changingly sang "Mad World" and "Tracks Of My Tears" on "Idol." Everyone of course knows Adam for his over-the-top persona and glass-shattering glory notes--and trust me, he hits some seriously glorious notes here--but the overall effect on this track is unexpectedly intimate and fragile, as opposed to bombastic and campy. Check your arms for goosebumps after listening.
And check this space for a two-part exclusive interview with Adam about these and other Trespassing tracks, coming soon!