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‘High Drama’: “The Brief Was To Remould These Great Songs” Says Adam Lambert
Warner Music

‘High Drama’: “The Brief Was To Remould These Great Songs” Says Adam Lambert

An eclectic treat, ‘High Drama’, the fifth solo album from Queen frontman Adam Lambert, takes the art of reinterpretation to a new level.


When it comes to reinterpreting songs, few contemporary performers can hold a candle to Adam Lambert. The flamboyant, Indiana-born, California-raised vocalist first wowed the wider public in the 2009 final of American Idol, and he’s since proved he’s one of the world’s best curators of other artist’s songs. Lambert has shown this rare skill in his role fronting Queen since 2011, but it was his delicate reading of Cher’s Believe, at the 2018 Kennedy Center Honours in New York City, that inspired him to record High Drama: his first fully-fledged covers album.

“I got great feedback when I covered Believe, and I approached the song in a way that was very different from the original,” Lambert tells Dig! “But even when I was doing American Idol, thinking of ways to bring a fresh slant on really well-known songs was always paramount in my mind. So when the idea came up for me to do a covers album, I thought, Well, why not?”

Listen to ‘High Drama’ here.

“This record was very much a collaboration”

Bearing in mind Lambert’s talent for reinterpretation, it seems only natural that he would record a covers album at some stage. His post-American Idol solo career has yielded four solo albums of freshly-penned material, so you might wonder why it’s taken him so long. Then again, the collaborative process that led to Lambert co-writing previous hits such as Whataya Want From Me and Sleepwalker with the likes of PInk, Max Martin and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder provided the blueprint for the High Drama sessions.

“This record was very much a collaboration,” Lambert says. “I got a list of songs from my team and my label, and we narrowed them down. I worked with producers and musicians, including George Moore (Clean Bandit), Andrew Wells (Halsey) and Tommy English (Kacey Musgraves), but I was heavily involved in the whole process. Not just in terms of pitching individual songs, but also coming up with ideas for how to transform them. That was a really creative process and very enjoyable.”

Such is the quality of High Drama that it sells the record short to describe it as merely a “covers” album. The tracklist casts its net wide, snagging a selection of tried and tested classics from the past six decades, but also showcasing radically reworked material from contemporary artists whose stars are very much in the ascendence. A song from one of these young firebrands, Billie Eilish’s Getting Older, provided the spark that set the High Drama sessions alight.

“It just struck me that it’s such a clever way to talk about growing up,” Lambert says of the song, which – in its original form – opens Eilish’s second album, Happier Than Ever. “I found it really interesting that she’s only 19, yet with that song, she’s perfectly captured the feeling of what it means to grow up. She’s totally done her own thing, and I admire the fact she dares to be different. Her spirit really appeals to me.”

“‘High Drama’ had to live up to its title”

Lambert lush’s Beatles-esque reinvention of Eilish’s relatively stark original is typical of the radical sonic reinventions to be found on High Drama. Yet, while many of the songs’ arrangements are fresh and startling, some of the artists Lambert salutes on the record provided inspiration for him while he, too, grew up in public. These days, he can genuinely call one of them, New Romantic icon Boy George, a personal friend, though he feels the Culture Club frontman remains an underrated figure in pop music.

“I remember seeing George for the first time on a re-run of a talk show he did in the US in the early 80s,” Lambert recalls. “I guess I saw it when I was in high school, and I was just blown away by how bold and matter-of-fact he was about who he was as a gay man.

“I don’t really think enough people give him credit for being such a groundbreaking figure,” Lambert continues. “When I was thinking of artists to cover for the new record, Boy George’s name came up, and I thought it would a really nice thing to take on one of his songs. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? helped establish George in the mainstream, and the original has this amazing reggae groove, but I didn’t want to touch that. Instead, we made it sound kinda sad and much darker. The album is called High Drama, after all, so we needed to live up to the title!”

Now recognised as one of the most pioneering LGBTQ+ musicians of his generation, Lambert’s take on Culture Club’s breakthrough hit is striking – and so is his reinterpretation of High Drama’s oldest song, Mad About The Boy. Written by actor and playwright Noël Coward, and first performed in the 1932 revue Words And Music, the song has since become part of the pop-culture firmament thanks to covers by artists as diverse as Dinah Washington, Eartha Kitt and Marianne Faithfull.

Coming on like an orchestral torch song with more than a touch of 90s trip-hop stars Portishead, Lambert’s own take on Mad About The Boy is performed with feeling, and it sits well in such august company. He’s already premiered it in public, having performed the song live on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing (an event he recalls as “a great experience and very well-received”), and his version Mad About The Boy is also the title song for the new Noël Coward documentary, directed by Barnaby Thompson and scheduled for release later this year.

Lambert is thrilled to have been involved in the project, which celebrates the colourful life and times of the famous 20th-century British writer and socialite whom Island Records’ Chris Blackwell, writing in his memoir, The Islander, had recalled as one of “the great English wits”.

“I jumped at the chance to be involved with the Mad About The Boy documentary, because Coward’s story is just so amazing,” Lambert enthuses. “He is now considered a gay icon, but he was also an influencer, long before that term existed. He was all over popular culture in his prime. He was the epitome of ‘the dandy’ – the cultured gentleman who people sought out for his cultural knowledge and his charm. He was years ahead of his time, so it’s really cool to bring him back into the conversation now.”

“I wanted to surprise the artists who recorded the originals”

Elsewhere on High Drama, Lambert is back on more familiar ground, happily surrendering to the anthemic bombast of Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero and indulging his love of classic soul on an inspired reworking on Ann Peebles’ 1973 classic I Can’t Stand The Rain: a song he first came to via Missy Elliott, who sampled the song for The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly), the breakout hit from her debut album, 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly.

Lambert’s take of I Can’t Stand The Rain accentuates the song’s inbuilt groove and mirrors his experimental approach to arrangement (“We thought we’d take a bit of the DNA from the Ann Peebles version and a bit of DNA from the Tina Turner version,” he says), which leaves him plenty of space to deliver one of his most impassioned vocals.

However, High Drama weaves equally seductive spells when Lambert opts to strip things back, which he does to great effect on his plaintive recording of Duran Duran’s Ordinary World and also on his sparse reworking of P!nk’s My Attic, originally penned by Julia Michaels.

Arguably High Drama’s highlight, My Attic sees Lambert repaying P!nk a favour, as she had previously helped co-write his first major solo hit, Whataya Want From Me. On the surface, the idea of a performer known for his flamboyance and verve covering a song displaying such fragility might seem unlikely, yet Lambert pulls it off with aplomb to spare. Indeed, it’s this very vulnerability which first drew him to the song in the first place.

“It’s such an intriguing concept, the idea of keeping all your woes and your secrets hidden from view in your attic,” Lambert says. “I love the way the words are pieced together. The storytelling isn’t bombastic, but it’s so powerful, so there is plenty of high drama in there.

“That’s what I’ve loved about recording these songs,” Lambert concludes. “The brief was to take a bunch of really great songs from all genres and completely remould them. For me, it’s been really challenging to twist these songs into completely different arrangements and make them sound brand new. It’s exciting, and if our new takes of these wonderful songs can surprise the artists who recorded the originals, then the record’s definitely succeeded.”

Buy ‘High Drama’ coloured vinyl, merch and more at the Adam Lambert store.

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