Album Review: Adam Lambert's continuing evolution on 'Trespassing'
Adam Lambert’s sophomore major label set, “Trespassing” opens with a full blast of bravado. “Wait til you get a load of me!,” the American Idol season eight runner up declares over and over on the thumping, hand-clapping tune, redolent of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” crossed with Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
Ready or not, Lambert is kicking down the door. He’s not just coming in, he’s claiming a seat at the head of the table and you will be served. The 15-track set is awash in Lambert’s influences: the aforementioned Queen and Michael Jackson, as well as Scissor Sisters, George Michael, and, even, Parliament. To his credit, while he wears these inspirations with obvious homage, he still creates his own document here with his own history overriding those of any of his musical touchstones.
Every so often an artist makes an album that brims over with not so much confidence as the feeling that he has left absolutely nothing on the studio floor. “Trespassing” is one of those efforts. It feels like every bit of Lambert’s heart, soul, ambition and sweat went into its creation. Such efforts can be a mess of too much of everything, and restraint has never been Lambert’s strong suit, but his tendency toward excess serves him well here.
As he’s often discussed in interviews, including Lambert's chat with Hitfix, the album moves from the light to the dark, taking the listener on a journey through Lambert’s head beat by beat: The first half is all throb and pent-up sexual energy in search of some kind of release, whether it’s the communal (in the Bruno Mars-penned “Never Close Our Eyes,” one of the album’s strongest tracks) or “Kickin’ In,” which any fan of George Michael’s will instantly take you back to his early ‘90s heyday (a “Father Figure”-era Michael is also recalled on “Broken English” later on).
Though Lambert himself has suggested there’s a bi-polar nature to the album, the one constant thread is the hunger and unquenchable desire to reveal one’s true self and to allow those you want to get to know better to strip down both emotionally and physically, as on “Naked Love.”
Track 8 (and first single) “Better Than I Know Myself” is the midway point and the transition from the dance party to the reflective, often somber second half. If the first half plays it all with a false confidence, the last several songs are full of enough confessions, and admissions to fill years of therapy.
“Underneath” is the album’s musical heart. On the ambient, atmospheric track, Lambert peels back all the layers we all keep hidden, and shows his true self to his lover. He stands, emotionally naked and raw, “Look at me, now do you see, underneath, underneath.” It’s Lambert at his most vulnerable, showing his “red river of screams,” and all his sins. It’s exhausting to listen to in part because it sounds like it takes so much out of Lambert to strip down so far, but it’s also cathartic.
Throughout, Lambert, who co-wrote 12 of the songs here and worked with a raft of producers, is self-assured vocally in a way that is leaps ahead of 2009’s “For Your Entertainment.” Lambert has the potential to be a premier rock howler: his voice can peel the paint off the wall; but he also knows when to rein it in, such as on the sad (all the more so after North Carolina’s passage of Amendment One) “Outlaws Of Love,” which is about gay marriage. “They say we’ll rot in hell/Well, I don’t think we will/They’ve branded us enough/Outlaws of love”).
By the end of the album, Lambert is looking for some safe place to “lay down” his partner. Small wonder, everyone has to be exhausted by this point...the listener, Lambert, and anyone he’s brought this far along with him. The album could use a good editor: I would have left off both “Pop That Lock” and “Runnin’,” though I know even as I write this someone will no doubt say those are his/her favorite songs.
“Trespassing” shows tremendous evolution in Lambert as an artist who has something to say and he continues to figure out the best ways and the best partners to bring along in that exploration. Not every song resonates or hits it mark, but there’s not a lot more than you can ask of an artist than to travel the path that Lambert is clearly on.