American Idol's taken a beating this year. Besides the usual drama with its judges, interest in the show appeared to be dwindling. In fact, its results-show finalé drew its lowest ratings ever. Perhaps what Idol again needs is a personality like Adam Lambert. The season eight runner-up lived up to - and exceeded - expectations at the Pageant last night. Glam, disco, synthpop, rock, goth and dancepop collided in a well-executed, enjoyable show. And like any smart performer, he left a very sold-out crowd wanting more.
After an airing of the recorded version of "For Your Entertainment," the title track of his debut, Lambert appeared atop a set of stairs wearing a top hat and long coat, à la Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter character from Alice In Wonderland. (His lacquered pompadour, however, screamed "rockabilly" or "Morrissey.") He strolled down to the stage, and opened with the alluring synthpop freeze "Voodoo," a cross between Duran Duran and Sade. Things picked up with the Eurodisco techno romp "Down the Rabbit Hole" and a riotous run-through of the Lady Gaga-co-penned disco vamp "Fever." The latter featured Lambert and his four back-up dancers showing off slinky dance moves and impeccable choreography.
Entertainment has songwriting or production credits from the usual Top 40 suspects, including Pink, Linda Perry, Max Martin and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder. But the rock edge of Entertainment is almost more impressive: Lambert's also singing songs penned by Muse's Matt Bellamy ("Soaked"), Darkness vocalist Justin Hawkins ("Music Again") and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo (who gets a co-write on "Pick U Up"). And Rob Cavallo, who's known for his work with Paramore and Green Day, also produced several songs. With so much talent on the album, it's of course seamless and professional -- if not almost too perfect at times.
However, Lambert's use of a top-notch live band loosened up the arrangements and delivery. Drummer Longineu Parsons was in Yellowcard and comes from a musical family, while keyboardist Camila Grey is in electropop cult faves Uh Huh Her. Guitarist Monte Pittman, who had plenty of chances to unleash killer metal solos, is in the hard rock band Prong and tours with Madonna. (In fact, he even taught her to play guitar.) Androgynous bassist Tommy Joe Ratliff, whose blond chop and makeup made him look like an ex-member of the Cure, quietly and steadily anchored the tunes.
These musicians ably handled operatic goth-glam ("Sleepwalker"), a Def Leppard-meets-'80s-funk hybrid ("Sure Fire Winners") and a hi-NRG gay-club anthem ("If I Had You"). "Soaked" indeed sounded exactly like a Muse song, from Lambert's vocal delivery down to the classical piano flourishes throughout. (It made a solid argument that Lambert should star in a revival of Phantom of the Opera.) Again unsurprisingly, the histrionic glam-pop highlight "Music Again" sounded like a Darkness outtake, complete with Lambert emulating the high shrieks for which Hawkins is known. A steamy, psychedelia-swirled cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" split the difference -- it sounded like Muse making out with the Darkness in a dark closet. And the throbbing synthfunk stomp "Strut" featured vaguely raunchy -- but snap-to-a-grid fierce -- dance routines based around canes.
"Strut" in St. Louis:
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