So, Era 3 is upon us – or upon you, as of course I am looking at one and two with hindsight.
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Part 2 of More on Singing, but there has been a lot of Adam action this week and I wanted to pick up on it. I’ve had lots of people ask me about Ghost Town, but I wanted to wait until I’d heard a live (or TV) performance of it, as for me it’s more difficult to get much from a recording. Adam sang on the Ellen DeGeneres show yesterday and the video was available on YouTube very quickly afterwards, so I’ve had the opportunity to watch it.
Now, I have to confess that dance music is generally not my thing, sorry.
To explain – I grew up in a city that was one of the breeding grounds for prog rock, so had the sounds of bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and ELO in my ears. Therefore becoming a Queenie was an entirely natural progression for me. Going right back to the 70s and the days of disco, dance music has never grabbed me the way that rock and indie music have. I fared slightly better in the 80s with some of the Hi-NRG stuff as I used to go to gay clubs, but I’ve never been a dancer. As Hi-NRG became rave, house and all the other electronic dance styles, they got further and further away from the music that gives me that rush. There are odd songs that I like, but as genres they don’t grab me.
Therefore I tend to prefer Adam’s rock-influenced or acoustic music, but this is down to my taste and the fact that our musical likes and dislikes in music are completely subjective.
Ghost Town isn’t entirely my thing; I think the lyrics are very interesting – dark and sometimes quite surreal. I like the acoustic section and the bridge, but for me the house-influenced chorus, although very “earwormy” doesn’t add up to a song that makes me want to listen to it constantly. Adam did say in one of his interviews that he wanted Ghost Town to be schizophrenic, so in that respect he’s succeeded, but my ears like music that I feel is logical; that’s just me. None of us can like one artist’s entire output; there are certainly Queen tracks that I will skip past and I’ve never owned a copy of Hot Space as I just didn’t “get it”. Surprise, surprise – that’s dance-orientated too!
Irrespective of whether or not I completely loved Ghost Town though, I wanted the opportunity to see Adam perform it live, for a number of reasons. First of all, I wanted to see how the song worked live. I was also interested to see how it would be accompanied and what sort of band would be used. I was also keen to hear how Adam sang live and how he would perform.
Here it is – I’m sure you’ve watched it many times already – but when you watch it this time, listen to the tone of Adam’s voice and watch his movements (I know that won’t be difficult!)
(video from TheEllenShow Youtube uploads)
This is definitely Era 3 Adam, with all the experience that he has gathered from nearly two years working with Queen. It has made a tremendous difference to him in many ways which I’ll explain in a minute.
In comparison, this is Adam when he released Never Close Our Eyes in 2012 – to judge the two performances fairly, I chose this deliberately as it’s another dance-influenced song, and I have picked another TV performance; this one is from when he sang on the Graham Norton Show in the UK. Do try and listen to both of these songs back to back, as it’s easier to see and hear how much has changed in three years.
(video from cultureofdestruction’s YouTube uploads)
In 2012, Adam’s voice was really rather different to what we heard on the Ellen show yesterday. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Vocal maturity as a result of ageing – singing voices mature at different rates. The largest, heaviest voices take longer and the most powerful opera singers may be in their early forties before they hit their vocal peak. Lighter voices mature earlier, but I would expect a voice like Adam’s to attain its maximum potential when he is in his mid-thirties. At the age of 33, he isn’t too far off that now. When a singing voice is fully mature, the sound of it will be at its most vibrant; the voice will be at its strongest in terms of range and power. This is exactly the same principle as when an athlete or dancer is at their optimum performing, although the age this happens varies hugely with the discipline; dancers and gymnasts mature far earlier (early 20s or even teens) because of the body flexibility required. Sports that require speed or strength are linked to maximum muscle development and cardiovascular capacity (usually mid 20s-early 30s), whereas marathon runners, who need endurance, will be at their best when older than this (usually 30-37 years of age). Singers need strength, endurance and muscle memory, which explain why they mature at this later age.
- Fitness – all that work in the gym has paid off! Reading up on Adam’s gym routine, he does a lot of work on his core muscles; abdominals, back and pelvis. These muscles are the power for a singer’s engine. If these are strong and work well, the voice will be well-supported (remember what I was saying about supporting the voice with air in the last blog entry?). These muscles give power and stability to the voice and help protect the throat from injury. Adam also does a lot of cardiovascular work which increases general fitness and lung capacity; this in turn will also improve his voice.
- Performance style – we are seeing “less is more” Adam as he performed during the QAL tour. His movements are fluid, well-connected and have intensity; he makes strong movements to reflect the mood of the song and the dance moves are “easy” and sinuous. There is another connection with those core muscles here; when you are taught to act a very common technique is to generate all your movements from your core muscles so that they have strength and intensity. These is clearly what Adam’s doing and because those core muscles are now so much stronger, the intensity of movement is more noticeable. The other element to the performance style is confidence; “less is more” Adam doesn’t feel the need to hide behind elaborate costumes or staging – we are seeing him as he is, and he is clearly happy with that these days.
- Challenge (mental and physical) – most of us only get better at something if we push ourselves to do it better. The runner is always looking to shave precious seconds of their time; the diver tries to squeeze in that extra half-twist before reaching the water. It’s exactly the same with the performing arts. Adam’s made it clear in lots of interviews that he is a perfectionist, and QAL was a fantastic opportunity to push himself further than ever before. This included coping with that massive Queen sound, pacing himself through a very taxing set including those power ballads and lots of movement and learning a large set of complex music. Last but not least, there was the psychological demand of stepping into Freddie’s incomparable shoes – paying tribute without imitating and winning over audiences who may have known little or nothing about him. That was an immense challenge all on its own.
All of these things together add up to Era 3 Adam, who can deliver a truly sophisticated and sensitive performance. To me, it’s pretty immaterial that I don’t think Ghost Town is the greatest song I’ve ever heard as the thing I’m most taken with is the evolution of Adam as a performer. Of course, as a hardcore Queenie I’m immensely grateful to Brian and Roger for making this possible, as not only do I get to see the development of an outstanding performer, I’ve had the opportunity to see him perform with the greatest rock band in the world.