By Richard Wink
Sexuality is currently a hot topic in popular music. Frank Ocean has announced he is bisexual, news which coincided with his highly anticipated Channel Orange album, a release that is being analysed by music journos and fans alike purely to see if there are any clues there about Frank’s private life. It appears Channel Orange is being judged under a new criteria, as reviews hit repeat on each song, listeners try to dig for clues about whether each song is sung for a bloke, or a chick.
Some have said that Frank’s declaration was brave; others have accused him of using his sexuality to sell the album, to get his name out there. When Adam Lambert was a contestant on ‘American Idol’, he finished runner-up to the clean-cut heterosexual Kris Allen. In the middle of that season of the reality competition conservative Americans were confronted by the possibility of a gay Idol winner. People speculated – is he or isn’t he?
For Adam Lambert, during the competition it likely didn’t matter. Lambert, like so many others who have competed on such talent shows, had to make every moment on stage count, they couldn’t afford to be distracted by talk about their sexuality, about ‘coming out’. It didn’t seem important at the time because there was a lot more at stake. Did Adam need the burden of becoming a gay rights spokesman whilst on a quest to change his life and live the dream of becoming a pop star?
Adam’s eventual ‘coming out’ was first reported in Rolling Stone. Lambert, in an exclusive stated “I don’t think it should be a surprise for anyone to hear I’m gay.” It wasn’t, and the world kept turning. Sexuality shouldn’t be a repressed secret, which I think was why Frank Ocean was keen to broach the topic, and get his status out there.
It shouldn’t matter. Is Judas Priest a gay metal band? Did Freddie Mercury make Queen a gay rock band? Is Elton John a gay solo artist? No, history has not judged these acts upon the sexuality of the artist, but by the strength of the songs. Likely, history will view Ocean and Lambert in the same way.
Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the music…
Like many talent show alumni, be it X Factor, Idol, or The Voice contestants, Lambert benefitted from the exposure of appearing on television in front of a national audience, and the fact that after months singing live in a high pressure environment his vocals have acquired a certain legitimacy. Lambert has an insane vocal range, and stretches his lungs to their full capacity, projecting a sonic surge through the speakers throughout Trespassing.
Unlike his first album, which struggled to capture Adam Lambert on his own terms, Trespassing has character. It is fun, hedonistic and on a quest for pleasure – a blend of heartfelt ballads, and MDMA fuelled club fodder. The album is bombastic, and flamboyant, everything that you would expect from Adam Lambert. The title track opener represents what might happen if you were able to crowbar your way into Lambert’s IPod and scramble the components, the song is a heady mix of vintage Queen baselines, Neptunes production circa ‘Hollaback Girl’ and Lambert’s trademark glittery vocal theatrics. Tracks such as ‘Kickin’ In’ roll around in fake tan and hairspray to thrusting tropical (likely that’s just the flavour from shots poured at the bar) electro beats. Pharrell Williams production, although on the wane, still just about works in a sweaty club inspired setting. ‘Pop The Lock’ is probably the finest of the up tempo tracks, because it is mish mash in the way most dance pop radio dominators are in 2012.
There are tracks that deal with the personal, for example ‘Broken English’ which appears to address Adam’s relationship with Finnish TV Personality Sauli Koskinen – the song talks about people from cultural different backgrounds who don’t share the same native tongue and therefore struggle to express their true feelings, though suggesting this problem can be solved through physical (sexual?) communication. The proud march of ‘Runnin’, the oil slick emotional outpouring on ‘Outlaws of Love’ and the poignant ‘Underneath’ showcase Lambert’s abilities to let his vocals carry the show as opposed to mindlessly wailing over excessive electro beats.
What you want from Adam Lambert as a pop star is for him to surprise us. Though this release is long-awaited, it isn’t the sound of an artist who has been buried away in studios trying to create something out of this world. He has left us wanting more, but only in the sense of – is this it? The biggest criticism of Trespassing is that it isn’t a big enough statement. You think of some of the finer pop albums from male solo artists of the last decade, such as Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, Chris Brown’s F.A.M.E. and Usher’s Confessions, and it lacks the defining clutch of singles to make any kind of worldwide impact. Though the album has scored Lambert a US Number One, it remains to be seen if the album can last the summer, and be considered one of the stand out pop releases of the year.