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The ‘Acoustic Live!’ EP: Adam Lambert’s New Unplug-In Baby

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

To the uninitiated and uninformed, the idea of wild Idol Adam Lambert--who's been branded a "rocker" ever since his first TV audition of "Bohemian Rhapsody"--releasing an acoustic EP might sound as ridiculous and out-of-character as, say, Susan Boyle spitting some gangsta rap. Come on, isn't this the same Glamerican Idol who's always been all about Kiss boots, glitter guyliner, fairy-dusted glamour-shot album covers, green trouser-snakes, spike-shouldered Skingraft leathers, Burning Man bodypaint, same-sex smooches, and sundry other interstellar imports from Planet Fierce? And wasn't that whole coffeehouse-crooner shtick the domain of Season 9's Idols, anyway? So why on Earth (or on Planet Fierce) would this over-the-top pop fop want to tone things down?

However, diehard Adamaniacs already know--from witnessing the unplugged act of Adam's ongoing Glam Nation Tour (or his more low-key "American Idol" performances, like "Mad World" and "Tracks Of My Tears")--that Glambert going acoustic isn't quite as shocking as Dylan going electric was back in the day. (No one's been hollering "Judas!" at any Glam gigs, as far as I know.) And ultimately, the results are about as pleasing to the ear, as evidenced by Glambert's new unplugged opus, the five-song Acoustic Live! EP.

Considering how genre-hopping and kitchen-sinky Adam's debut disc For Your Entertainment was, it's interesting how, when stripped of all their bells and whistles and smoke and mirrors, new unplugged versions of various FYE tracks hang together so comfortably and cohesively on Acoustic Live! The Pink-penned pop hit "Whataya Want From Me," the spandex-sheathed Justin Hawkins techno-glam stomper "Music Again," the wailing '80s-esque power ballad "Aftermath," Muse's majestic mini-rock-opera "Soaked"...electric, they were all so radically different that FYE could have been mistaken at times for a (really awesome) K-Tel compilation. But recorded acoustically, there's now a true common thread running through all these tracks. That golden-gossamer thread, of course, is Adam's impeccable voice. Fans who once complained that his magnificent vocals were too buried and technologically tweaked on FYE will be thrilled to hear his pure powerhouse performances here. And detractors who didn't dig Adam's schizophrenically eclectic approach on FYE--or who previously griped about his supposed "screaming" and "oversinging"--will find new appreciation here for what, basically, are great songs sung with newfound sophistication and restraint by a great talent. Period.

Among the EP's five tracks, it's no shocker that "WWFM" (one of the finest pop ballads of the past year) and the aforementioned Tears For Fears/Gary Jules cover "Mad World" (one of Adam's finest "Idol" moments) are stellar. Lambert could've been accompanied by a tissue paper and comb, or a kazoo, and those two tunes would have lost nothing in the translation. And "Soaked" was always so much about Adam's operatic belting anyway that this EP's stripped-down rendition doesn't even sound stripped at all; seriously, I scarcely even noticed that all those crashing guitars and swelling Bond-theme strings were suddenly missing.

The EP's biggest surprise, though, is "Aftermath," which benefits most from the unplugged approach, transforming from a Bic-flicking, showboating stadium-rocker into a sweetly inspirational campfire singalong. As for "Music Again," that cut admittedly does suffer a bit here (I miss the multitracked-and-stacked-to-the-heavens, Queen-like choir of a hundred harmonizing Adams, not to mention Justin Hawkins' crude-and-tattooed flying-V guitar solo), but that still didn't stop me from listening to the kinder, gentler "Music Again" again and again.

Why? Because this entire EP thrillingly places Adam's remarkable vocals front-and-center...and at the end of the day, that's what's most important and impressive about Lambert, as opposed to all the glitter and gossip that perennially surrounds him. Really, the guy could've simply released an EP titled A Cappella Live! and it would have been just as enjoyable.

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