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I have two dreams about Adam Lambert, neither of which are sexual. In the first dream, Lambert’s powerful jackhammer of a voice approaches a level of over-the-top camp that’s deathly to critics and catnap to fans of crazy, bold electro pop. In the second, the first openly gay man to score a number-one album, learns to negotiate the nuance of his instrument and grows into an artist of emotional purity and subtlety.
The critic in me longs for the latter, but the fan in me asks, “Where’s the fun in that?” Velvet: Side A, the first release of two planned EPs, unequivocally answers that there isn’t. The EP, a brief 21-minute, six-track blast of modern funk (with one ballad for good measure), starts over-the-top and flies up into the stratosphere from there.
The best funk has always made room for social commentary — think of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” or Prince’s “Controversy” — and such is the case with opener “Superpower,” a rocking dance floor banger that’s a call-out to current political ugliness and a gay anthem on the level of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” This bifurcation — the inherent fun of a forward-moving groove with some personal-is-political lyrics — is the bedrock of Lambert’s work here.
“I think we have to hold on to an idealistic vision, otherwise, how are we going to reach towards hope?” Lambert has asked. “If we don’t, all of us will give up and be indifferent. We need to keep pushing, otherwise all the bigots are going to win! And we can’t let that happen.”
How do we accomplish this? In Lambert’s world, visibility is the key. Flamboyance isn’t a pejorative but the way forward. “Stranger You Are” warns us not to hide our authentic selves, while closer “Ready to Run” urges, through its first-person narrative, young outsiders to find their safe haven to never be “scared of straight men.”
And while the more serious content of Velvet: Side A bodes well for the longevity of Lambert’s career, the heart (or groin) of the record lives in the erotic overlay of the slinky Prince-beats of “Loverboy” and the falsetto-crazy indie pop of “Overglow,” tracks that are of-the-moment and intended to supersede it.
“The intention was that [the EP would] feel more timeless,” he has said. “It wouldn’t be something that would sound out of date in three years. A lot of it came from referencing songs from the past: ‘70s piano singer-songwriter pop, funk and soul music, Motown — a lot of things people still love.”
In other words: classic. Welcome to the beginning of Adam Lambert’s Golden Age. We can’t wait for Side B.
Adam Lambert’s Velvet: Side A is out now.
Photos by Joseph Sinclair