Ever since we met him on American Idol, Adam Lambert has never been resistant to change. Whether it was changing his look, changing his career path, or even changing his sound, the 37-year-old star has always made it a point to keep himself mutable.
On the singer's latest, Velvet: Side A, that mutability pays off in spades; the new six-track EP (or rather the first half of a greater album itself, as the title suggests) sees Lambert taking on a funk-driven, '70s rock sound that is unlike anything in his past work. Taking an old sound and making it fresh for a modern audience is a tough sell -- but Lambert pulls it off almost effortlessly here.
Album-opener "Superpower" is the right introduction for audiences to this new evolution in the star's career -- with a heavy bassline, smooth falsettos and some slick guitar riffs, Lambert oozes a kind of confidence that hasn't quite been seen in his past work, with the lyrics only adding to the raw power of his voice. "You try to put me in a box Make me something I’m not/ Don’t give a fuck, 'cause I’m gonna take back/ My superpower," he wails.
It's clear that Lambert has surrounded himself with the right people as well. While the influence of touring with Queen rings through in small moments on this album, the team he worked with, including indie-pop engineer Tommy English, pop-rock producer Butch Walker and more, added even more flavor. While '70s rock may provide the album's core, glints of R&B, disco and dance-pop find their way through, without making the project feel oversaturated.
Take a track like "Overglow" for example: the song sounds like it could be a long-lost Tame Impala B-side, with it's impeccibly-executed bassline and ethereal production. Lambert's voice soars over the top of the melody, reaching Prince levels of falsetto perfection, and when the heavy production of the chorus kicks in, the song is suddenly a piece of pure, unadulterated rock. The transition doesn't feel forced, and Lambert sells the emotion with ease.
What's clear as day on the album is that Lambert is having the time of his life. None of the record's six tracks feel wedged-in or overproduced -- if anything, they exude a relaxed assertiveness, commanding your attention through every note, but never clammoring for it. Lambert invites you in on songs like "Closer to You," which opens as a simple piano-vocal ballad, before growing itself into a classic Pink Floyd-style slow jam, without ever making you question the transition.
The album's highlight comes on "Loverboy," a groovy, Prince-inspired rock track where Lambert brings every aspect of the album into one track. With smooth, calm verses and a rocked-out, ual chorus, the star reveals the depths of his talent as he howls out the remaining notes of his long-awaited return. "I don't wanna be another number/ Wanna feel like your loverboy," he squeals.
Velvet is the right title for a project like this -- the sound is classic, the production is smooth, and the artist is basking in a rich, luxurious new sense of self-confidence. It may only be the first part of a greater prject, but Velvet: Side A leaves nothing to be desired for the listener, and instead feels like a collection that could be Lambert's most definitive work to date.