Monday, 28 February 2011

Fantasy Springs - One Year On

It's been a whole year since I fairly casually woke up to watch some videos of Adam in concert. I didn't follow what happened, just decided to go to YouTube and see. What resulted was a physical reaction to the videos of the performance. My hair stood on end in goosebumps, my spine tingled and my breath got taken away. Right there and then I knew I was witnessing something special because I compulsively hit repeat like an addict needing another hit.

One year on, that concert and that WLL is still peerless. It's still my favourite, a favourite for many, still being watched regularly and we still recall it as stuff of legend. It has stood the test of time, testament to the power and the impact that performance has had on us all.

Here's a playlist of all my edits for that concert:

I haven't gotten round to finishing all of the set yet and many videos have since been removed so if you'd like to help me, I'm looking for lossless rips of original YouTube files (especially those from lekispop) or raw footage.

I find it a little bit surprising that after such a long time, FS hasn't been topped. Why hasn't this happened, and should it have been? Adam is one to keep pushing the bar so why hasn't this one been hurdled yet? One of the things about it is that it was unique. We haven't seen the same set list or the same desert-dwelling witch outfit whipped up by the elements since then, so there haven't been any direct comparisons of which a later concert has compared favourably. Subsequent concerts were hindered somewhat by structure, repetition, choreography. But I feel there's much more to Fantasy Springs being special, there was something momentous about the occasion. It was Adam's first solo concert and not only was everything fresh, exciting and surprising, it felt so alive, magical even. To use one of Adam's favourite subjects, it was like all the planets aligned and everything came together to give us that perfect moment. It was like there was a mysterious desert wind which threaded an energy through each performer, connecting each and every person like a sixth sense and the music just effortlessly flowed. I felt we saw Adam at his very best - open, natural, free-spirited, creative and spontaneous. With a new album and new music in the making, surprise will come more easily. I'm confident the mood and energy will be recaptured and there'll be more Fantasy Springs moments to come.

Well we can't have an anniversary without presents now, can we? In the year since then, I've picked up more sound editing skills and have re-mixed the audio for WLL, targetting most of the audience speech and screams. I used the excellent wav recordings from tinafeapf and swflaboy to create the files. Uncompressed wav format is also included because this legendary WLL deserves to be listened to in the best quality possible. You can listen to a compressed preview below though the downloads are much better in quality. Enjoy!

Download FS WLL (without band intro) mp3 - 17.03MB
Download FS WLL (without band intro) wav - 75.08MB
Download FS WLL (with band intro) mp3 - 19.82MB
Download FS WLL (with band intro) wav - 87.40MB

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Whataya Want From Adam?

This Whataya Want From Me? edit of mine was meant to coincide with the celebrations for Adam's Grammy win for best male pop vocal. I can't help but wonder if his chances would have been better if the record production did more justice to his voice. After listening to so many renditions of the song and even though the sound quality is lower, I'd take a live version every time. The vocals have the edge with the extra dynamism that's not flattened by meddlesome production, and a raw vitality that comes from the buzz of singing to a live audience.

I've watched about 95% of all concerts from start to finish and this acoustic WWFM from the final stop at Club Nokia is my favourite. Why? Aptly, it's because of the vocals. Before we get to those though, there's banter at the start, where Adam's charm is at work and he gives us a glimpse as to what he would be like as an evil villain with his sadistic little laugh. I noticed that he started singing a little lop-sidedly with a wonky mouth at times towards the end of the tour, but nevertheless it's impossible not to fall for his gritty belts and soaring improvisations at the end. Amazing.

It was some time ago during an interview that Adam first told us that the sound of the second album would be like WWFM, the song that has brought him most success so far. I've not been thrilled by this because it's one of my least favourite on FYE. I feel that lyrically it's fairly bland and clichéd, and its sound is one of the least distinctive, bar that voice. On its own merits, it's not something that would interest me nor would I buy it. But as I've mentioned before, music isn't only about sound being pleasant to the ear. It's about the experiences and emotions that we attach and weave into it. I wasn't fond of WWFM but it turned out to be one of my favourite performances from the tour. Why? Because it's a time capsule of the journey since that AMA performance. It took on a significance because the song became real and was sung from Adam's heart. The different versions got played enough times to reach a certain threshold for the hook to do its job and we were all able to sing along. Knowing that so many others at the concert shared the same ups and downs whilst being united in song with Adam was a beautiful experience. So I ended up liking it because it reached a certain level of success whereas I think it should really be the other way round.

I've got the results of some crude polls taken by you. The one on the left was taken soon after the album was released and the one on the right taken soon after the end of the tour (where were you all for this one?!). I've only taken the songs included in both. The complete album poll included a total of 16 songs and the Glam Nation poll included a total of 20 songs including some classics, which may explain why overall percentages have generally declined. Users were allowed to select multiple answers.

It's not the most scientific study (especially as participation was fairly low on 2nd poll), but if we compare the percentages, I think it's an indicator of a number of things:
  • Song's ability to stand the test of time
  • Difference between album production and live experience
  • Comparison of different arrangements

Contrary to my opinion above, WWFM, the song whose sound Adam wants to base his second album around, has suffered a significant drop between polls. It could be that the acoustic arrangement performed on the tour is less popular than the original (I'm doubtful of this because of the popularity of acoustic Aftermath), but I'm inclined to believe that fans have become tired of hearing the song. I don't think it bodes well if he decides to continue down this route.

The biggest loss has been from Music Again, which has continued with the same arrangement. I think it has suffered from its change in order too, from being the album opener to one near the end of the set. Performance-wise, it had a lot of energy but there was little that stood out or made us keep tuning in to see what Adam would do differently each time. Without any tricks, the popularity of this OTT song has fallen so I think the decision to include "Less rhinestones, more leather" is a good call on Adam's part.

FYE and Broken Open have also suffered considerable drops and I think their results were partially due to their scarcity. FYE had a different arrangement which I feel was lacking in melody and punch, and was also buried within a medley which didn't help. Broken Open came in two different varieties during Glam Nation. In its initial form at the start of the tour it seemed too long and sleepy, sucking the life out of the set. It later re-appeared with an acoustic arrangement. There are too many differing factors to conclusively explain why they fell in popularity.

DTRH has held steady, but SFW and Strut with the same arrangements have fallen a little in popularity. As well as the dilution effect of more songs in the second poll, I think this is due to their attention-lull position in the set after a long interlude. They tended to go by in a blur, maybe because they're not the strongest of songs.

On the positive side, the biggest gain has been from Aftermath, which was our least favourite on the album (and I reckon one of Adam's too, who describes it as "Heartland, adult contemporary rock" and admits to always having heard it as a dance-pop anthem), but its debut on the tour through an acoustic re-arrangement has become one of the highlights. I think the acoustic version is better placed to showcase his vocals and sheds the outdated feel of the original. It'll be interesting to see how its message will be received after being re-packaged as dance-pop.

And now we come to arguably the most important part for deciding future direction - the songs that have scored consistently high. For a song to achieve lasting success, it needs to be well-written to stand the test of time, and Adam needs to be able to perform it well live. I think the latter contributed to FYE not taking off - the key is too low for him.
  1. Fever was on top by some margin in both polls. I'm sure the kissing antics made a significant contribution to the Glam Nation poll but nevertheless, it's a superb disco-dance-pop song. Catchy but evidently not annoying because we still love this arrangement, it has an addictive bassline hook and oozes sass. And we know Adam does wonders with it live. It's just a shame it hasn't been released as a single.
  2. IIHY has had an appreciable increase after already scoring well on the album. The live performances were less dance-pop, and being the last song incorporated the band and dancer introductions to keep up interest. The audiences were also very familiar with it, generating a lively atmosphere. Its success is down to both the quality of the song and the interactive live performances.
  3. Sleepwalker still has the same arrangement so seems to have stood the test of time as a well-written song. It's atmospheric and engaging but it's Adam's voice that really makes this. The live performances have been electrifying, leaving audiences in awe.
  4. Soaked is another song which puts the focus on the voice. Both the aggressive original and the gentler tour instrumentals take a back seat for a timelessly rousing experience.
So how do the results of these opinions fit in with what we know about the second album so far?

Lyrically: heartfelt, honest and personal, maybe even a bit dark, with Adam doing much more writing

The results show no predilection towards songs that Adam was involved in writing but that shouldn't discourage him, especially as two of the top performers are songs that had been written by established artists some time ago and had already made it to the demo stage. I think there was a lot of promise shown on the album and with more time in which to perfect the songs, the results could be impressive.

"Personal and honest" immediately translates as self-absorbed and serious, even soppy to me, so it rings a few alarm bells. I hope Adam avoids extolling the virtues of love or getting emotionally over-indulgent with the dark. At times during the tour, the way he worked backwards to fit the set neatly into an unnecessary box labelled "Love" made me cringe a bit. It's like he tried too hard to create a flowing theme out of the material so the result felt rather crude and inelegant. When he was explaining it to the audience, it seemed like he was also trying to convince himself at the same time. It's probably a result of having followed everything too closely but I'm afraid to say that for me, it missed the mark and felt contrived. But that is a niggle over how he tried to find a common theme to link the set, not his songwriting, which I believe won't follow that style. I'm not a fan of the direct and overt like Aftermath and WWFM when it comes to emotional songs. I prefer something a bit more oblique, leaving the listeners with something to interpret.

It could be argued that all the songs are personal because Adam can relate to them. Under the heading of "honest", I would welcome some social commentary with astute observations sprinkled with snark. I saw some potential in Pop Goes The Camera but it wasn't further developed. I do give my thumbs up to "personal and honest" as long as the songs are cleverly written and quirky, steering clear of boring clichés. This category does however, exclude the light-hearted fun and frivolity of Fever, our firm favourite.

Sound: Less try-hard, less camp less rhinestones more leather, production focus on vocals

To know that the production will do more justice to Adam's voice must be music to our ears. Since I prefer the live recordings, I hope they'll leave it well alone this time round.

With the the decline of MA, it looks like time's up for glam rock, but should we really be swapping rhinestones for leather? I'd say the top songs are a mix of clubwear and leather. We can group them into two categories. One is dance-pop with a strong melody, a driving bassline and a rock edge, the other is big vocally-driven dramatic power-ballads. Adam seems to counter-intuitively be wanting to back away from camp favourite Fever. Could it be the wrong decision to ignore the former to focus on the latter? Let's not forget that the poll was taken by fans and one of the aims is to win over new ones. My guess is this second album is geared towards the US market where WWFM did better than IIHY and Fever was deemed unsuitable for release as a single.

So what's the point of this post? Well I've learned recently that Adam is more easily influenced by fans than I expected, from an interview where he said he kept kissing Tommy because he thought it was what we wanted, to the social media summit where he said he has used ideas from fans. It's evident from his recent blog post that he's interested in our opinions and we know he lurks a lot around this fandom, so I thought it might be useful to do a bit of market research for him using stats. Also, maybe now is a good time to express our opinions when the second album is still in its embryonic stages. Please help out by completing and sharing these simple polls:

What type of music do you think Adam should record for his second album?

If achieving commercial success were not an issue, would your choice be different? If so, ideally what type of music would you like to hear from him?

I prefer the bonus tracks on the last album so wasn't keen when Adam said he'd be basing the next album on the safe pop-rock sound of WWFM. I'm hoping to see him push things, be more adventurous, experiment a little, but I also understand the need to turn in a profit so he's better placed to do this in future. There has always and will always be this balancing act between artistic integrity and commercial success. He's managed it quite well so far and I expect it to continue.

If I could decide what to have on the second album I'd have a funk-rock core, especially after having been teased by a few licks from Monte during the tour. I'd put some soulful vocals on top of it, and to add variety but keep it cohesive, there'd be elements of acid jazz, electrofunk and disco thrown in. The lyrics would be witty and have a little humour in them. The voice would take centre stage and there'd be a stripped-down jazz/blues track or two just to kill a few people. And there'd be a crazy-as-fuck bonus track that I don't even have the imagination to describe.

Adam thought that on his first album he tried too hard to stamp his identity, but could it be that on this second album he'll try too hard to please the masses? Something that one of the AI mentors said comes to mind and that is the aim shouldn't be to make music that's popular, but to make music that you like and work on it so that it becomes popular. Even though this whole post has been about what we want, ultimately I don't want Adam to over-think things and pander to what he thinks other people want, but to follow his musical instincts. The advice I'd give to him comes from his own mouth and is the reason why he has won over so many of us in such a big way. That is to stick to his promise of surprising us and to stay ahead of the curve, giving us what we didn't know we wanted.

DOWNLOAD WWFM (with intro) mp3 - 13.48MB Alternative download link
DOWNLOAD WWFM (without intro) mp3 - 7.56MB Alternative download link
DOWNLOAD WWFM iPod compatible mp4 - 39.73MB Alternative download link
DOWNLOAD WWFM HD mp4 - 139.19MB Alternative download link

Friday, 11 February 2011

Glam Nation Tour DVD Preview

We've been waiting for this for what seems like the beginning of time. Even before the start of the tour we all wanted a DVD with professional quality sound and video. Now we finally get to see the previews on Adam's Vevo channel. So far we have Fever and WWFM from the concert in Indianapolis:

I'm thrilled to be getting a clean audio recording, but after having spent so long tarting up videos to try to see Adam better, I can help but feel left wanting. I guess I have to blame Adam, for not realising how compelling he is to watch and how a hardcore fan such as myself wants to do it without such impediments as obstructing objects, shaky camerawork, frustratingly epileptic editing and wide-angle shots where he looks miniscule. I'll concede that the wide-angle shots suit some of the Fever choreography but I'm a bit disappointed with the lack of close-ups for WWFM where I want to see his facial expressions emoting the lyrics. On the plus side, I love the performers' view shots from the back of the stage which give me butterflies. Not to mention the surreal feeling of needing to pinch oneself walking out on stage in Adam's boots, performing in front of full house after full house on his sell-out maiden tour. What do you think of it? I guess I won't be retiring from editing videos quite yet.

A Flailworthy Return

What a great time to return when there's so much to celebrate! Thanks for sticking around! I really needed that time off after the exhaustion of Glam Nation.

Here's what I missed in the past month in a very brief summary:
And we've been spoilt rotten in the last couple of days with all the publicity appearances:

The Talk

Adam looks fresh-faced and happy as his disarming charm "Don't let the nail polish fool you!" reminds us why we all fell for him. If his vocabulary "rambunctious", "rudimentary" doesn't quite do it for you then his hero fireman or primal caveman certainly will. This appearance is made of win and it's impossible to keep a straight face as we see the love and excitement pouring out from the fans who are just too cute.

Extra TV - The Grove

Adam looks every bit the rock star that he is. That gilet is so retro-space but also reminds me of Michael Jackson's red Thriller jacket. The dulcet tones as he goes into a very brief a capella line from WWFM are just too painfully short and leave me wanting more.


Adam performs an acoustic version of WWFM for the first time on TV, and since I haven't heard his voice for a while, I'm hit by its agonising beauty. It's so velvety and breathy and rich and soothingly mellifluous all at the same time. The start of the arrangement is similar to the Berlin NRJ performance where Monte gently picks the guitar and Adam whispers. Even after hundreds of performances, Adam still finds a way to refresh it for hardcore fans. There are changes in the timing and phrasing with the delayed "What DO you want from me?" making the question more direct and poignant, and much less defensive. The picking changes into a strum with the vocals building up to an unexpected intensity towards the end. The crescendo is stunning. I much prefer it when he stays away from his falsetto for "So DON'T give up". Sometimes this part can sound a little snatched or shouty when he stays in full voice but here the notes are given room to expand, sounding so smooth and full and resonant I just want to eat them up.