Photoshop a unicorn or dolphin into the background of the campy, garish cover of Adam Lambert’s For Your Entertainment and it would look like a ‘90s-era Lisa Frank poster, but the actual music makes for one of the strongest debuts from a former American Idol contestant to date. During his run on the show, Lambert succeeded as much for his mastery of his image as for his theatrical, elastic voice, and, more so than any other performer in the show’s seven seasons, he used the Idol stage as a platform for developing a fully realized artistic persona. That has made Lambert one of the most divisive and most compelling of the show’s long list of alumni, and he’s smart enough to capitalize on that carefully manicured image throughout Entertainment.
Over the course of the album’s 14 tracks, Lambert struts and vamps and brings a real sense of spectacle to his vocal performances. His trademark falsetto wail sounds better on record than it did on Idol, when he too often came across as shrill. On tracks like “Aftermath,” “Pick U Up,” and “Sure Fire Winners,” he favorably recalls some of the strongest ‘80s hair-metal vocalists like Axl Rose and David Coverdale. It’s a style that suits Lambert well since it capitalizes on his vocal power and his flair for the dramatic.
His efforts at glammed-out dance-pop are slightly less successful, with opener “Music Again” and the awkwardly written “Strut” every bit as obnoxious as the songs from Mika’s The Boy Who Knew Too Much. What gets Lambert and his collaborators into some trouble is the extent to which they draw from contemporary artists. “Music Again” apes its production and a good deal of its melody from Mika’s “Touches You,” while the title track and lead single is so similar to Sam Sparro’s “Black and Gold” that 19 Entertainment should probably keep a strong legal team on retainer.
But questions of originality aside, there’s simply no getting around the fact that the Lady GaGa co-write “Fever” (which, true to GaGa’s utter lack of subtlety, is a song about a hard-on) and “Whattya Want from Me,” written by Pink and Max Martin, are phenomenally well-crafted pop singles that give Lambert the opportunity to shine. To co-opt one of Simon Cowell’s favorite phrases: Lambert’s music sounds current in a way that Idol albums rarely do. And along with Melinda Doolittle’s terrific Coming Back to You, Lambert’s Entertainment impresses all the more as the rare Idol debut to sound like the work of an actual artist with a clear sense of identity and purpose.