Despite recently switching to writing mini reviews about music, I do occasionally want to write longer form pieces about projects I’m especially excited about. Enter these two new releases by Adam Lambert and Waterparks.
On an EP (or, more accurately, the first half of an album) and the other a full LP, both of these musical efforts have really impressed me. It’s not often a body of work gels with me as well as these do. So why not play music critic and sing their praises?
Like many, I’ve been following Adam Lambert since he was on American Idol. He’s had a fascinating career so far, even if he hasn’t always had commercial success. He’s had a few great pop hits and frequently tours with Queen. I’d still argue he’s one of the biggest successes to come from any singing competition show.
And with good reason. He’s wicked talented and has the charisma to match. He’s a natural-born performer and the heir apparent to Freddie Mercury. Don’t misunderstand and think I’m just saying that because both men are queer and associated with Queen. Lambert is the Freddie Mercury of the 2010s, if less iconic.
Which leads me to VELVET: Side A. While I wouldn’t call any of Lambert’s pass albums masterpieces, they were all good and showed off his vocal talent. But this EP is the realization of the kind of artist Adam Lambert should’ve always been. It’s a 70s rock-inspired powerhouse.
Lambert sounds as good as ever on this record, but that’s never been a question. His mad belting skills are always going to be a given. It’s the lyrics and sound that truly mark this EP as a standout musical moment.
VELVET: Side A allows Lambert to be flamboyant and dynamic in a way that feels authentic, rather than because he’s a gay pop star and that’s what’s expected of him. This EP is Lambert as he is, no artificial preservatives needed. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with being flamboyantly gay, just that Lambert feels natural and unhindered now. Despite performing, this is not a performance.
Every track on this collection brings something to the table. “Superpower” is a wonderful drug trip, while “Stranger You Are” is a swaggering affirmation of self. “Closer to You” is melodramatic in the most sensible way. “Loverboy” is plaintive and blunt, so oh-so-fun.
The instrumentation on this project is spectacular. There are killer guitar solos, beautiful piano runs, and sexy horns. The use of synths is so creative and ingenious. Everything about this project is, in essence, flawless.
If you’ve ever liked an Adam Lambert song, listen to this project. If you like Queen, check out this EP. If you just have good taste, give VELVET: Side A a listen. You won’t regret it.
This album has actually been my introduction to Waterparks and I’m so glad it has. Imagine never having heard a band’s music and then the first time you do, it winds up one of your favorite albums of the year.
FANDOM is a biting critique of fandom and stan culture. It dissects parasocial relationships in a way no other band or artist has dared even dream. And it’s a long time coming too.
But first, let’s speak broadly about what makes this album so great. This is emo/scene music for the modern era. It mixes pop punk with wacky effects and underutilized instruments— including a recorder!
Lead singer Awsten Knight’s voice is like an angry Owl City. It’s got just the right amount of quirk. And really, it’s no wonder their style is so unique. They take inspiration from so many bands and artists, from Fall Out Boy to Blink-182 to Kesha. (Also Mikey Way, formerly of My Chemical Romance, is part of their touring band. That’s always a plus in my book.)
Okay, now back to the main reason this album is so fantastic: the thesis. It basically exposes how selfish the fandom side of this parasocial relationship is. On “I Miss Having Sex But at Least I Don’t Want to Die Anymore,” Knight says, “I’m sick of all this, ‘How’d you get your band name?’/ ‘Is that your real first name?’/ ‘Can you text and can you follow back ’cause it’s my birthday?’/ No one cares what I want, just what I’ve got.” Though fans idolize Knight and his bandmates, they often forget they’re humans with wants and needs too.
On “Watch What Happens Next,” Waterparks call fans out for complaining when bands change their sound or break up. As Knight explains in their defense, “They’re defeated as fuck/ Shamed out of money/ By their own culture.” Essentially, remember that you have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.
“Dream Boy” and “[Reboot]” explore the disparity between fangirls’ idea of stars like Awstin Knight and the reality (or perhaps the ugliness that occurs when fans realize their favorite isn’t perfect). On “Dream Boy” Knight says, “Am I the boy you dreamed of?/ Living in your subconscious/ Do you believe in love?/ And is it because of me?” This, obviously, is about the way fans fantasize about dating their celebrity crushes. It’s a safe way to explore romantic and sexual feelings because of course Celebrity McFamous would never hurt you.
“[Reboot]” deconstructs this. Knight says, “I never promised you your dream boy/ I’m better as your chew toy/ Love, love, love/ The heart I gave, it was a decoy/ I’m just here to destroy.” He’s not the perfect man— he’s just a man. It’s also a lot darker than “Dream Boy.”
Of course, it’s fair to point out that this song and several others on the record are also about Knight’s ex-girlfriend. “Easy to Hate” might be my favorite, probably because of the recorder. But I also love “Turbulent,” a dark and angry kiss-off. And then there’s “Worst,” which is deliciously petty.
There’s another fabulous parallel on this record, this one between “Cherry Red” and “I Felt Younger When We Met.” “Cherry Red” opens the album and is a bittersweet declaration. Knight tells his ex, “You know I died for you.” “I Felt Younger” expounds more on the ideas broached on “Cherry Red.” Now Knight says, “I said I love you to death/ So I must be dead” and reflects on the relationship in more detail.
Even better, the end of “I Felt Younger” cycles right back into “Cherry Red,” making the latter almost both the opener and the closer. It’s really fucking cool.
I only gave this album a chance because I’d heard some good things and Spotify was pushing it. I’m so glad I did. I’ll definitely be going back and listening to Waterparks’ previous records.
People often bemoan the loss of the old days, when Fall Out Boy, Paramore, and My Chemical Romance were at the height of their popularity. But those days aren’t gone. Now we have bands like Waterparks, Stand Atlantic, and Badflower. After all, emo never dies.
Have you listened to either of these projects? What do you think of them? Let’s discuss them in the comments!