Adam Lambert THE ORIGINAL HIGH
It’s no surprise really that Adam Lambert left “American Idol” with a messed-up sense of how best to use his amazing voice. Like most singing competitions, that show values long, towering notes above all else.
The rest of the world? Not so much.
On “The Original High” (Warner Bros.), Lambert figures that out — in part thanks to his touring run with Queen and teaming up with Swedish super-producers Max Martin and Shellback, who helmed his hit “Whataya Want From Me.” And the results are spectacular.
It’s not that Lambert eliminates the big notes entirely; he uses them more sparingly and to better effect. They become the crowning glory of the lovely ballad “There I Said It,” the calling card of the funk-guitar-driven “Evil in the Night.”
However, it’s the mix of stripped-down rock and dance music, which powers the charming first single “Ghost Town” and the groovy Kylie-influenced title track, where Lambert really makes his mark.
On the Disclosure-like “Things I Didn’t Say,” Lambert positions himself as the American Sam Smith, with power to spare in his soaring high notes. That’s right where he belongs.
James Taylor BEFORE THIS WORLD
In more than four decades, James Taylor has seen fire and rain, showered the people with love and steamrolled his way into millions of hearts.
That would be enough for many, but JT has more musical work to do.
Taylor’s new album, “Before This World,” arrives 13 years after his last studio album of original songs. And it does nothing to threaten his legacy.
The 67-year-old has retained his abilities to craft and deliver a song. His simple, elegant acoustic fretwork and supple tenor sound much as they did in his 1970s hit-making heyday. The new collection sounds familiar without being a retread.
“Montana” evokes “Sweet Baby James” in meter, mood and melody. And “SnowTime” will certainly raise comparisons to “Mexico,” though this one’s set in Toronto and he sings about decamping to the United States’ neighbor to the north instead of the south. Was there an obscure, equal-time clause tucked into NAFTA that required Taylor to pen an ode to Canada after Mexico?
Not everything’s a grand-slam: “Angels of Fenway,” a ballad for fans of his beloved Boston team, is by no means a strikeout but is unabashedly homer-ish and the nostalgia gets a bit thick in spots. Of course, that sentiment wouldn’t be shared by New Englanders, who are prone to preface Yankees with “damn” or something worse.
Two songs elevate the album from good to great: “Before This World” and “Far Afghanistan.” The first is among the finest of what Taylor calls his “agnostic hymns.” This stately piece features standout support from cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Sting. The former weaves soulful lines and the latter handles the harmonies beautifully (and at least one-third less Sting-y). The second is a well-told and played tale that doesn’t so much criticize war as it questions the assumptions we make about the faraway lands we invade.
Overall, “Before This World” is a Taylor-made collection from someone who has earned his keep. How sweet it is to hear such solid, smart and at times sublime songcraft from this journeyman.
The Associated Press
Giorgio Moroder DÉJÀ VU
Giorgio Moroder, the dance music pioneer who helped shape disco with Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love,” has returned.
Buoyed by his Grammy-winning collaboration with Daft Punk, the 75-year-old producer-composer set out to assemble his first album since his 1985 collaboration with Human League’s Philip Oakey.
“Déjà Vu” (RCA) arrives at a time when pop music is very much in debt to Moroder’s pounding, four-on-the-floor dance beat and swirling synthesizers. And these songs, sung by chart-topping A-listers that include Sia, Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue, sound perfectly at home in today’s pop mainstream.
However, they also bear an undeniable Moroder twist. On the album’s title track, Sia offers a bit of Summer-like mystery to the glittery pop surroundings before giving in to the party atmosphere. Minogue’s take on “Right Here, Right Now,” which has already topped the dance charts, has a timeless feel, as if it could fill a dance floor in any of the past four decades.
“Tempted,” Moroder’s collaboration with Matthew Koma, uses Koma’s distinctive voice to give an edge to the dizzying, new-disco backdrop that sounds like it could have come from Daft Punk. Charli XCX’s collaboration “Diamonds” is another bold, successful experiment, with Moroder giving her a galloping drum track and pulsing synth riff to battle.
However, not everything works that well. Spears’ robotic, over-processed vocals on her remake of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” drag the song down, even as Moroder gives her as much musical support as he can.
(His odd, Auto-Tuned vocals, unfortunately, do not help matters.)
In some cases, like “Don’t Let Go” with Mikky Ekko, the singer simply gets overwhelmed by the production, making the song seem less like a Moroder original and more like one of the countless current copies inspired by him. However, most of “Déjà Vu” finds Moroder adding to his already legendary legacy.