Queen + Adam Lambert Doesn't Add Up for Either Party
Photos by Jack Gorman
Queen + Adam Lambert Toyota Center July 9, 2014
Put yourself in these two situations:
A. You're a member of a Hall of Fame-level band who wrote some of the most famous, popular songs in rock music. Your lead singer was perhaps the greatest of all time, but he's no longer with us. You can still play and, more importantly, you still want to play, but no matter what you do, the shadow of your fallen front man will always be there.
B. You're a singer with an amazing voice, good looks, and a charming personality. You should be a megastar, but you just haven't found the right songs yet. You have fans, but you need something to push you over the hump that separates pop act and legit star.
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If you look at these two situations and think, "Well, why not put A and B together?", congratulations for picking the path of least resistance. The good news is that this solution will make both parties some serious money.
That's pretty much where the good news ends for Queen and Adam Lambert.
Here are three facts:
1. Queen has an amazing collection of songs. 2. Brian May, guitarist and occasional astrophysicist, and Roger Taylor, drummer and occasional [insert hobby here], still know how to bring it onstage. 3. Adam Lambert has an amazing voice. Just flawless.
Now, admittedly, the decision to do this tour with Lambert is the one that in theory should make the most sense. And sometimes it actually makes more than sense; on songs like "Killer Queen" and "I Want It All" they actually do manage to make some magic, and it's quite impressive.
The problem is that these magic moments are few and far between.
Adam Lambert is probably the best choice to front Queen if you need a warm body to fill that position; he's miles ahead of Paul Rodgers and a much better contemporary choice than, say, Lady Gaga. The problem is that just because he's the best choice doesn't mean he's a good choice.
Again, there's no doubt that he can sing. Seeing him live will give you a greater appreciation of his skills as a singer; he is multitudes more impressive than he seems on TV. But while his voice may be amazing, it doesn't really fit into the type of music that Queen plays, even though all signs point toward the idea that he should.
Perhaps the best example of things not working is "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," which saw Lambert spend the entire track with a fake lip curl as if he was suddenly auditioning in a role for an Elvis musical. It just doesn't work, and no matter how many times he tried to add his own flair to the show, it rarely worked.
To his credit, however, it must be mentioned that at no time did it feel like he was trying to ape Freddie Mercury. Lambert may have the highest respect for Mercury, but he made the wise decision to not try and be Mercury. It's hard to say who he was trying to be -- he was certainly trying hard to be somebody -- but Mercury it was not.
Here's the real mind-bender for you though: Lambert is the one that's getting the short end of the stick here.
All the people who believe the problem here is that Lambert can't fill Mercury's shoes have it all wrong; the problem is that Adam Lambert is too talented to vamp on stage while Brian May works his way through yet another (admittedly impressive) guitar solo.
This show was actually best when it was just the Queen guys doing their thing. Brian May knows how to control a crowd, even when his guitar solo goes about three minutes too long. He's funny, engaging, and seemingly sincere even when he's repeating the same lines he does at every show. Roger Taylor can still carry a tune, and it was cute to see him have a drum solo battle with his son.
The Queen guys still have it. They can still play. They're just going about things the wrong way.
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In the end, the show didn't show enough reverence toward Mercury (which is weird to say, given that he "sang" a good chunk of "Bohemian Rhapsody") to be considered a tribute and the combination of Queen/Lambert aren't releasing any new music, so you can't consider them relevant. Nostalgia is nice, but it only gets you so far, which might explain why a large chunk of the crowd sat the entire time and the fanfare for one of the greatest songs of all time was pretty damn muted.
If this was a one-off attraction, a major show in Wembley Stadium for instance, that was being recorded and sold on DVD and CD and whatever digital format the kids use these days, it would make perfect sense. It would be something special. But this isn't special: it's just a couple of guys rocking out onstage together but not making anything even approaching art.
Adam Lambert needs to find someone to write the right song that shows off his voice and his charisma. Queen needs to give up the ghost and just fucking use Mercury's vocal tracks for all the songs that need them if they're going to tour.
Those may not be the simple solutions either party is hoping for, but being a champion isn't easy.
Personal Bias: If you've made it this far, you may not be surprised to learn that I once wrote a blog that mentioned this combination specifically.
The Crowd: Mostly older folks who were into it enough to clap their hands but not so in to it they felt the need to stand, with a sprinkling of folks who were clearly born after Freddie Mercury passed away.
Overheard In the Crowd: "If this little cog in the wheel can help make him successful then I'll do what I can." The lady sitting next to me and my +1 was a moderator for the official Adam Lambert fan forums, and I must say that her excitement and passion make me feel real bad about basically everything I wrote about this.
Random Notebook Dump: If my +1's unofficial Instagram experiment is any indication, Adam Lambert is huge on social media.
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