Mikael Wood
October 16, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Recording vocals at L.A.’s Capitol Studios, Adam Lambert has just uttered words that could strike terror into the heart of anyone who loved his over-the-top style on American Idol. ”In the verses I’m being really theatrical,” he tells producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day’s American Idiot), who’s supervising tonight’s session. ”Should I scale it back?”

Scale it back?

Fear not, Lambert fans. ”I think the ballsy way’s better,” Cavallo replies, and soon enough, Lambert’s letting it rip on ”Music Again,” a stomping electro-metal ditty penned by former Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins. He works his trademark wail so hard that he’s eventually forced to request a notorious rock-star pick-me-up: Throat Coat tea. Lambert calls the stuff ”voice lube.”

Before he needed to soothe those vocal cords, though, he needed a sense of direction. ”When I got off the Idol tour, I had a little identity crisis,” Lambert says during a break, backstage-casual in acid-washed skinny jeans, a Dickens-orphan scarf, and black leather cowboy boots. ”I was like, ‘What do I wanna do?”’

The singer’s management had solicited 28 songs from some of music’s A-list writers and producers, and he had to decide exactly what kind of record he wanted to make. Inspired by the performances that seemed most successful on TV and on tour, Lambert settled on the idea of updating a guitar-heavy classic-rock sound with dance grooves and futuristic synths; he cites Muse and the Killers as influences. ”It’s as if a ’70s time capsule blasted off into space and you’re watching it through a holographic filter,” he says with a laugh. ”That’s my big vision.”

In addition to Cavallo, Lambert’s written and recorded with big names like Greg Wells (Katy Perry), Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera), and RedOne (Lady Gaga). This week he and his team are choosing which cuts will make the album, still untitled and due out Nov. 24. Cramming a year’s worth of work into a couple of months has been ”stressful,” he says, but back in the studio with Cavallo, where the singer’s just nailed an especially Bowie-esque vocal riff, he’s confident of one thing: ”Glam is back, motherf–ers!

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