Adam Lambert, ‘For Your Entertainment’
Judging the guylinered gay based solely on his sexually superfluous shot at being, uh, “spontaneously artistic” during the American Music Awards wouldn’t be fair. He needed none of the pseudo fellatio, because he can sing – and the “Idol” runner-up thankfully applies his rocketing range to these 14 tracks better than he does a man’s face to his clothed junk. He’s still making whoopee on “For Your Entertainment,” the hyper-sexual good-gay-gone-bad bit, and turning up the heat on Lady Gaga’s co-written contribution “Fever,” wringing a falsetto-laced chorus that’s so Scissor Sisters in its sound and unapologetic homoliciousness. His debut is easily the edgiest of all “Idol” firsts (and maybe it knows that just a little too well). Perhaps that’s because of Lambert’s versatility – retro glam-rock (like the crippled “Strut”), anthemic rock (“Time for Miracles”), musical-lit lifters (disc best “Pick U Up”) and vulnerable slowies are all here for our entertainment. Too much? Yeah. Sometimes the album’s like an 18-year-old running loose in a porn store. But, then again, you’re talking about a guy who boasts about being born with glitter on his face. This should be the least of our worries.
Lady Gaga, ‘The Fame Monster’
Monsters kill, and few have done more chart-slaying than the towering, twisted musical mastermind behind some of this year’s weirdest WTF-was-that? moments. So it was more obvious than anything Gaga’s done that we’d get a part two (you know how these monsters are). The eight songs – some ferociously fly (“Bad Romance”), a couple big blunders (she tries honky-tonk on “Teeth,” and it bites) and some old, recycled gimmicks on new cuts – are part of a generous re-issue of 2008’s “The Fame.” In step with the world-dominating disco ball she dropped on us pre-“Monster,” head-hijacker “Bad Romance” wields a colossal new-wave synth sound like Michael Myers does a machete. Her weapon is unleashed a lot, cutting through the Beyonce-teamed “Telephone” and the way gay retro shimmer of “Dance in the Dark” (name-dropping like Madonna via “Vogue”). Songs about self-obsession, like “I’m So Happy I Could Die,” don’t exactly jell with “Speechless,” a heartfelt orchestral ballad with a ’70 rock feel. But, hey, at least it makes this fame monster seem more human.
Rihanna, ‘Rated R’
That umbrella Rihanna gave us almost three years ago could’ve come in handy during her very public Chris Brown beating. She was mum for a while, but clearly that’s because she wanted the music doing the talking. And so it does on “Rated R” – a dark, sometimes-horrific portrait of the 21-year-old Barbadian vixen, who’s recorded a brave pop opus that’s nothing like 2007’s chart glutton “Good Girl Gone Bad.” She’s badder, but in the raw, de-sexualized sense that goth-rock “Russian Roulette” evokes with its violent analogies and radical anti-contempo sound. “Cold Case Love,” about a derailed relationship (and ex-boyfriend Brown, presumably), is meticulously swelled into a blistering masterpiece, ending calmly with a string lilt. You can almost see Rihanna walking out of the fire. She doesn’t start many, as its almost all more heavy than hooky – though self-boasting “Rude Boy,” “Hard” and “Fire Bomb” have insta-hit potential. But this is Rihanna the Woman, not the “Girl” – and her fourth offering is a mature reflection of someone who, at the time she recorded this, wasn’t living under the disco ball anymore. She was seeing herself in it.
Susan Boyle, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’
We love a good frump-gone-famous story, and the Scottish “Britain’s Got Talent” sensation’s story is bigger than her voice, a behemoth in itself and more technically flawless than David Beckham’s body. On her covers debut, she’s music’s Lifetime TV, predictably succumbing to ballads (the best being “Proud” and “Wild Horses”) bound to make the girls and gays weep. An extra jolt, and a few risks, could make Boyle all she’s cracked up to be.
Shakira, ‘She Wolf’
If hips don’t lie, then a lot of them will be moving to the Columbian chanteuse’s third English-language album. Going for Americanized dance over Latin-hugged grooves, “She Wolf” is a strange beast, mingling disco, Arabian strings and weird quirks like howling as if they all made sense together. They usually don’t, but “She Wolf” – with one heckuva campy title track – is a smartly written, hook-heavy piece of pop. It’ll devour you.
John Mayer, ‘Battle Studies’
There are few highs on the gay-club-loving guitarist’s fifth album – except for the literal one on the catchy lead single, on which he asks, “Who says I can’t get stoned?” The answer is no one, unless pot was the cause of this lazily produced, underwhelming leap from bluesy-rock into processed folk-pop, where even a Taylor Swift duet on “Half of My Heart” feels like an after-thought.
Leona Lewis, ‘Echo’
Talk about bleeding love – this too-slick sophomore album from the big-voiced balladeer gushes it. Finding solace (the dang-good dramatics of “Happy”), the we-belong-together bit (the corny “My Hand”) and the kiss-off (“Outta My Head,” a refreshing slip into electro pop) – all delivered with gusto but, regrettably, little diva ‘tude. And on an album that almost echoes her debut, you’ll be craving more Mariah-isms.