Power ballads exist to climax. I use that final word, in all its lascivious glory, for the obvious reasons. Created to accommodate "soft" emotion in hard rockers, these flash-pot-fueled show-stoppers have to be as uncontainable as juvenile delinquent rock itself.
From "Dream On" onward, that's meant one thing: an explosive ending in which the band, and especially the singer, pump blood into the vulnerability they've expressed by pushing themselves into unstoppable overdrive, straining at the song's seams, and finally breaking through with a swoon that obliterates everything else.
You think I exaggerate? Listen to "Time for Miracles," the single that begins this fall's triumphant ascent of "American Idol" finalist and hard rock liberator Adam Lambert with a swoosh and bang that do Freddie Mercury and Steven Tyler proud.
The song is surprisingly unoperatic, though its back story is straight out of "La Boheme." Co-written by Los Angeles rock power couple Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider, it's a lonely declaration of faith in the healing power of love -- a message made tragic by the fact that Shneider died of cancer in 2008.
Lambert communicates this context through a world-weary approach in the early part of the song, including a nice, depressive blue note in the middle of the first verse and a vocal crack a few phrases later. There's not much drama for him to milk here -- no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise, just an aching heart and some deeply familiar romantic imagery.
Lambert works his way through the undying flames by keeping it conversational, adding a slightly soulful twist as the strings swirl behind him. Then, three minutes in, his melismatic growl signals that the summit's within sight. Producer Rob Cavallo gives him a hand with some pumped-up kick drum and more orchestral dervishism.
From there it's all fireworks. Lambert's voice is multi-tracked so that it keeps careening into itself, resolving in a final squall that is, I must say, pretty Aretha-esque.
Then Lambert takes us back to the lonely bedroom with a final, mournful reassurance that he's not giving up on us. The conductor puts down his baton and we're done.
For those of us biting our nails about what Lambert might accomplish with his debut album, this song, custom-made for the upcoming movie "2012," is neither utterly reassuring or at all discouraging. It's like a speed trial. Power ballad? Check. What comes next?