Adam Lambert’s High Drama: Track by Track

In my earlier review of High Drama, I said that what makes this album so compelling is Adam’s ability to interpret and interpolate songs in ways that fundamentally reshape them into new creations. So let’s look at each track and how I think he accomplishes that.

Holding Out for a Hero. Adam reconstructs Bonnie Tyler’s frenzied 1984 version from the Footloose soundtrack into a swaggering, Muse-ish arena rocker. And he out-bombasts Muse’s usual bombast with an arsenal of vocal acrobatics harkening back to his time on Idol. This would be a great first song in concert and it’s quite the introduction to the rest of the album.

Chandelier. Oooh, the distorted guitar effects that introduce the song recall Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun and The Beatles Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Both of those songs put a guitar through a Leslie speaker and I wonder if that’s how that sound was produced here. It’s the production choices that make this song so interesting. Although Adam essentially sticks to Sia’s original melody, there is a lot of electronic processing of his voice in the chorus and non-melody parts of the song. The disembodied vibe that is created fits the song’s theme of the emotionally incoherent effects of intoxication, of going between feelings of freedom and shame. I found the sound of this song – and of course Adam’s voice – very moving.

Ordinary World. Heart be still. I think my soul left me for the heavens until it returned to my body three minutes and twenty seconds later. Quite simply, this is Adam singing quite simply, accompanied at first by just a piano and then by an orchestra. His voice is beautiful beyond words. I think this is my favorite Adam Lambert song now.

Getting Older. Adam flips an introverted song into an extraverted one. In both the sparse production and the vocals, Billie Eilish’s original sounds like a confession of her inner thoughts as though she’s writing them in her diary. Adam’s version sounds like he’s made peace with the realities of life in a conversation with, well, anybody who’s around to hear him. Apart from the personality differences, there are also two different perspectives. Billie was a teen moving into adulthood. Adam is an adult moving into the early stages of mid-life. With that life experience, Adam’s delivery is much more self-realized, starting with an unmistakably Queen-like opening to the song, and eventually, I found myself thinking how much I’m enjoying this Queen song that isn’t a Queen song although it’s being sung by the guy who sings in Queen.

I Can’t Stand the Rain. This has that same funky, gritty 70s-ish sound he created for his Velvet album. And every time he does that Adamism when he sings “rain” (and once on “pain”), it makes me smile a big smile.

West Coast. Lana Del Ray’s languid, psychedelic soft rock original gets a shot of sped-up heavy metal glam with a booster of vocal pyrotechnics, and I am here for it.

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. Dark, brooding, yearning Trespassing-era vibes (think Chokehold). In other words, it’s nothing like Culture Club’s reggae-influenced pop original. But Adam still gets Boy George’s seal of approval.

Attic. This is so beautiful. It’s Pink’s version performed by a minimalist trio of a strumming guitar, a bass drum quietly keeping a steady beat, and Adam’s gorgeous voice. I may have to add this to my growing list of favorite Adam songs.

Mad About the Boy. Apparently, Adam also has 50s jazz crooner with strings in his bag. His nuanced attention to the delivery of each word is Sinatra-esque. His restraint is Miles Davis-like. And his ability to convey feelings irrespective of genre is astounding.

I’m a Man. I was not familiar with early 70s artist Jobriath, the first openly gay rock musician to be signed to a major record label, until this album. Adam stays close to the original version of this pretty 70s glam rock song although adding Queen-style background vocals.

Sex on Fire. Yes, I’m reviewing this out of the order that it appears in the album because I have a lot to say about it. I’m warming up to it, but this Kings of Leon song is the track that works least for me. In an interview with NME, Adam said, “He needed to do something “different” with such a massive tune, which meant thinking outside of the box. “I was like, ‘What if I sing it like Prince? What would Prince do?’” he recalls.”

Of all the incredible artists he’s interpreting on High Drama, perhaps Prince is too high of a mountain to climb. And to be clear, it isn’t a Prince song that feels too far. Because Prince was a great songwriter, there are many wonderful cover versions of his songs. It’s covering a non-Prince song in the style of Prince that falls short for me.

But here’s what I love about it – the fearlessness of the attempt. In another recent interview, he shared his love of Christina Aguilera’s fearlessness as a singer. Adam’s fearlessness is the special ingredient of his prodigious talent. It was that fearlessness that was on display each week on Idol that created so many WTF moments. It’s the fearlessness that has resulted in five studio albums that share nothing in common with each other even when it meant leaving record labels to create them. It’s the fearlessness that allowed him to step into and excel in Freddie Mercury’s shoes in Queen.

And that’s a wrap. This deeper dive into an excellent album was time well-spent. But I can’t leave without a special shoutout to Adam’s team of producers, engineers, and mixers that helped create such sonically satisfying work.

Here’s my wish. On every album, there are usually at least twice as many songs made as get released for the final product. Wouldn’t it be awesome if a More High Drama album is put out at some point?

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