In these times when everything on the radio seems to be electro-pop music, and a shameless use of the auto-tune machine is perpetrated by ‘top’ record producers, there’s an female artist, a Londoner, who still wants to create albums with real instruments, and show her voice as it is: pure, powerful, soulful, and able to pierce through you all the way to your heart with one simple note.
Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, known as Adele, winner of two Grammy awards in 2009 thanks to her fantastic and critically-acclaimed debut album 19—Adele’s age back then —returns now in 2011 with her sophomore studio offering, aptly titled 21, to be released 24 January (UK) / 21 February (US). Adele sang about a ‘love break-up’ in 19—mostly inspired after she and her ex called it quits—and it looks like 12 songs on that CD about this weren’t enough, as Adele’s still not satisfied. In fact, the singer still had enough memories, feelings, and anecdotes kept inside about that hard moment of her life that she has managed to produce yet another album with that same inspiration. Some will say, but why would we want more of the same? I only say, listen to 21, dive into the lyrics, and you’ll find out the reason.
It’s not about repeating the same formula or subject, but above moving the listener, giving him goosebumps, making him snap his fingers to the musical arrangement, and say: ‘this is true music’. Adele, together with 21, has attained that from me. She narrates new experiences about her ‘love break-up’, sometimes with an angry attitude, other times with melancholy or nostalgia, and in others as if to say, ‘This is it and I’m going my way’.
When playing the 21 disc, the first song you’ll listen is ‘Rolling in the Deep’, the album’s first single and the smartest way to kick things off. This is rage turned into a song. From the very first line, ‘There’s a fire starting in my heart’, Adele will win you over, with her soulful piercing voice, her anger, and the guitar solo, subsequently joined by other instruments like the piano or the tambourine. And when the chorus arrives, magic happens.
‘Rumour Has It‘ starts with an ‘ooooh oooooh ooohhh’ that will predominate during most of the song. Adele gives me a Janis Joplin feeling in this one, with her raspy voice. In ‘Rumour Has It’, Adele shows three different personalities: the ‘b*tch’, who is happy for the sorrows of her former love (‘Rumour has it she ain’t got your love anymore’); the hypocrite, who wants to make more harm (‘Rumour has it I’m the one you’re leaving her for’); and the Adele who reveals her true intentions: ‘But rumour has it he’s the one I’m leaving you for’.
Following these two samples of pure genius hate, in track 3, ‘Turning Tables‘, Adele reproaches her ex, this time more calmly, for his attitude back then in a ballad with a simply stunning pre-chorus, although the melody in this section sounds very familiar. Don’t You Remember‘ is an even slower ballad which starts with fragile vocals and a few guitar chords. As the song progresses the tempo increases. A melancholic Adele shouts to her ex to please remember her, and asks him when was the last time he thought of her.
And now we arrive at the climax of the album. ‘Set Fire to the Rain‘, a clear single candidate, guaranteed number one, and in my opinion, the best song on 21. Perhaps it sounds too ‘mainstream’ by Adele’s normal standards, but what does it matter? This is already classic material. The changes in Adele’s registry are simply marvellous, the tempo increasing in the pre-chorus, and the tremendous voice that comes out from her mouth in the chorus, so effortless, is something to stand up for and applaud. Adele looks for a reconciliation that will never occur: ‘When I’m with you I could stay there’.
‘He Won’t Go’, midtempo ballad, ‘Take It All’, pure ballad, and ‘I’ll Be Waiting’, total funky-soul mix. A roller coaster of emotions and sounds.
‘One and Only’ could have been recorded only a year ago, but it has a profound similarity to those classic ballads of the ’70s or ’80s, of course always with the contemporary touch Adele’s voice adds. I can hear some Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan in this one.
‘Lovesong‘ sounds like a slow lambada. Sadness oozes from Adele’s voice.
‘Someone Like You‘, the last song on the album and reportedly the second single, will most likely make you shed a tear. It’s a grandiose ballad that Adele sings beautifully and with lots of sentiment. The lyrics of this song perfectly describe 21. In Adele’s words, ‘This song sums up how I was affected by this person’.
If slow ballads are not your thing, check out this brilliant remix of ‘Rolling In The Deep’ by Jamie XX.
21 is stunning in every possible way. It is undoubtedly Adele’s best album to date and possibly the best of 2011 up untill now.