A seismic shift occurs on High Drama, the latest album from Adam Lambert covering iconic songs including Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex On Fire’, ‘Chandelier’ by Sia and ‘I Need A Hero’ by the incredible Bonnie Tyler, that’s so subtle even Lambert himself didn’t notice until someone pointed it out to him.
“I was playing the album for my boyfriend when I had finished most of the demos and he was like ‘you know, it’s really cool you’re saying “he” in all these songs’,” says Lambert. “And you know, I hadn’t even really thought about it. I didn’t realise until after I was looking at it and thought, that is really cool.”
It’s the sort of switch that feels small but the impact of what it represents culturally is enormous: “Because years ago that would have been an issue and now it’s not and that means a lot,” adds Lambert.
Having arrived in Australia barely 24 hours earlier and with back-to-back interviews lined-up for the new record, if Lambert was feeling the lag of the FIFO visit (“I fly to New Zealand tomorrow!”) he didn’t show it. Make up on point, green juice in hand – Lambert’s infatigable stage presence is, either during his tours with Queen or solo performances, clearly no persona.
Launched late last month, High Drama is Lambert’s first official cover album. Featuring a song selection that could be a time-capsule for music across the decades, starting with Noël Coward’s ‘Mad About The Boy’ all the way up to Billie Eilish’s ‘Getting Older’, Lambert’s treament of each track puts them into new perspectives. Not just the gender-switch, but musicality of it.
Tina Turner’s already sultry funk hit ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ is given a raunchier makeover while ‘Sex On Fire’ goes from pub anthem to potential club banger. ‘I don’t where that came from!” says Lambert when asked what made him tackle such a huge hit in this way.
“Actually I do know. Tommy English, who produced it with me, we were talking about when that song came out which was like the late 2000s and the original record is already brilliant. And there were some doubts in my camp about it! People were like ‘are you sure want to touch that one it’s a really good record as it is…’
“So I spoke to Tommy about it and he was all in. And we both started talking about that time period and our memories of that time period. [It was this] indie rock dance thing that was going on, like Hot Chip and LCD Sound System. It was still organic, because it was bands, but it was dance and electro at the same time. So we wanted to throw back to that sound and that time period.”
When it comes to the slower, more intimate tracks Lambert’s sheer vocal power becomes a vehicle for a sense of longing and surprising vulnerability. P!nk’s hidden gem ‘My Attic’ is a cathartic outlet for of the wounds and cares we hide away and pretend to forget while ‘Mad About The Boy’ perhaps finally finds the performer it was meant for all along, considering Coward himself was gay and wrote it about an unrequited love.
The album is, Lambert admits, one that is populated by tracks that are either queer-coded or have become anthems amongst the queer community. But much like the gender switching, this too was never the primary intention of the album. Just a happy coincidence.
“They’re making documentary on the life of Noël Coward and I was asked to record this version of ‘Mad About The Boy’ for it. And we decided put it on the album. They were so beautiful about it, how he never got to sing the song himself and this was closing the circle and to sing with the lens of today and the progress we had made. ‘I’m A Man’ is also very queer and then just doing women’s songs in general is fabulous, it’s fun. ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ is the campest thing in the world and I was like ‘that’s the first on the album, let’s just go for it’.”
Having turned 41 earlier this year, Lambert exudes that kind of confidence that comes from someone who has not just been in the industry for over a decade but someone who has a reached a point where other people’s opinions don’t bother him so much. It’s something he jokes about, right at the start of the interview, that biggest gift to come from entering his 40s was giving less of a shit about what people thought.
Unless it’s about his creative output, it’s all just noise he explains.
Which perhaps leads to the most pressing question then. For someone who once infamously stated that he would never do a cover album, what caused the change of heart? “After my second album, they approached me and saiid ‘we really want you to do this’ and it was sort of like, that was what they were willing to do at that point. And I thought about it for a long time, and at the time it just didn’t feel right artistically. So I passed, and left the label.
“But when the idea came up this time, it just made sense. I was into the creative challenge of it. Especially after the ‘Believe’ by Cher at the Kennedy Centre Honours, I think that got such an amazing reaction from people. That was another inspiration for it. And that’s becoming a bit of a calling card for me: taking a song, and reworking it.”