POP/ROCK: Adam Lambert, "Trespassing" (RCA)
When Lambert competed on "American Idol" in 2009, he stood apart from the other contestants, electrifying the show (and polarizing the audience) with his flamboyant style and soaring, theatrical vocals. He eventually finished second on "Idol" and has gone on to create a minor stir with a few hits and a little bit of controversy (as when the openly gay singer kissed a male musician during his performance on the American Music Awards). Yet he has hardly revolutionized music.
In fact, Lambert proves himself to be deeply entrenched in the establishment on his new "Trespassing." He seems more comfortable on the often-lackluster sophomore album than he should. He frequently sounds perfunctory as a cog on the generic dance/pop assembly line.
Still, there are highlights: Pharrell Williams gives Lambert the clap-and-stomp funk force he needs on the punchy title track, "Pop That Lock" rewards with grinding electronica and the vocalist twists along in the playful groove of "Kickin' In." Also, Lambert absolutely turns it out for the power ballad "Underneath," and he works in some poignancy on behalf of the GLBT community with the timely "Outlaws of Love." -CHUCK CAMPBELL, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
POP/ROCK: Haley Reinhart, "Listen Up" (19/Interscope)
Last year, when Reinhart climbed her way to third on "American Idol," she appeared to be anything but a modern pop star. A gritty rock belter with an outsized voice that felt as if it needed boundaries, she often looked uncomfortable, unnatural onstage and uncertain about why pushing her voice to extremes wasn't always the right idea.
If Reinhart is still overexerting herself on her debut album, you can't tell. "Listen Up!" is a taut disc full of meaty, thickly arranged pop-soul that suits her booming voice extremely well.
Reinhart still isn't a pop star, but that's fine. Produced primarily by Rob Kleiner and busbee, these songs hark back to the 1960s and '70s, when Motown girl groups were ceding ground to soul-driven rock. It's singers' territory that shows off both the smooth power of Reinhart's voice and also its engine-revving churn. She lingers elegantly over notes at the end of lines, as on "Now That You're Here," and can tighten up into a growl when needed, as on "Liar."
In contemporary pop terms, this is territory staked out by the likes of Bruno Mars, and the long shadow of Amy Winehouse hangs over the more wrenching soul numbers like "Wasted Tears" and "Oh My!" That song is saddled with a nonsensical verse from the toothless rapper BoB, an absurd concession to the times and the only glaring misstep here. On "Hit the Ground Runnin'," Reinhart easily channels the Supremes, blending melody and sass.
It's convincing and fresh. In a sense, this is what Simon Cowell's "Idol" had long been advocating -- a return to standards and classic pop modes. It's unfashionable and a bit out of touch, and what a smart thing that turns out to be. -JON CARAMANICA, NEW YORK TIMES