Billboard CD reviews: Susan Boyle, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen

Mon Jan 4, 2010 10:52pm EST
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NEW YORK (Billboard) - For someone who got her big break through reality TV, Susan Boyle's career has been the stuff of fantasy. A middle-aged woman from Scotland securing worldwide fame via YouTube was unlikely enough, but now that Boyle's debut album, "I Dreamed a Dream," has broken sales records on both sides of the Atlantic, it would be prudent to start taking her more seriously. That shouldn't be too difficult, since the set is a classy affair. Nothing here can match the sheer, jaw-dropping impact of her first "Britain's Got Talent" audition. But sticking to a safe formula of covering standards with only a piano and the odd sweeping string arrangement accompanying that still-shocking voice, the album certainly won't disappoint her fans. A restrained reworking of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" and a dramatic rendition of Madonna's "You'll See" work best, although the soporifically slow attempt at the Monkees' "Daydream Believer" is perhaps a step too far, even for her.



It doesn't rewrite (in hot-pink glitter ink) the entire rule book on what a pop record can be. But Adam Lambert's debut album, "For Your Entertainment," is still the most audacious, confident debut yet from a former "American Idol" contestant. And that's not even the best thing about the release, which includes writing and production contributions from a sizable portion of the top 40 A-list. Lambert's vocals were a thing of scenery-chewing wonder on "Idol," and here he successfully showcases the full range of his remarkable instrument, from skyscraping glam-rock sneer ("Music Again") to lush future-soul croon ("Broken Open"). Even when the material doesn't rise to the occasion -- as in the aptly titled "Sleepwalker," penned by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic -- Lambert's singing gives the music a tactile sensuality. Not surprisingly, considering the expectations surrounding the album and its hasty mode of manufacture, "For Your Entertainment" can feel scattered and shallower than it should. Even so, it practically vibrates with pleasure.


ALBUM: KRIS ALLEN (19/Jive Records)

In a way, the media buzz surrounding Adam Lambert could be a blessing for Kris Allen. Unlike most "American Idol" winners, he's a perpetual underdog who mustn't live up to hype so much as defy reserved expectations. Allen does this with ease on his self-titled debut, continuing in the guitar-driven pop direction he established in the spring while sounding supremely confident. It's a wonder why the song "The Truth" wasn't chosen as the Arkansas singer-songwriter's first single, since it has the kind of anthemic thrust he'll need to please fans while recruiting new ones. The track "Before We Come Undone" boasts one of the album's catchiest hooks, while a Salaam Remi-produced version of his much-praised cover of Kanye West's "Heartless" throbs with a hip-hop backbeat. Allen doesn't straddle genres and octaves like "AI" runner-up Lambert, but he did co-write the majority of his album -- a rarity for an "Idol" -- and he overdelivers on the promise he showed on TV.   Continued...