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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Adele: 19

ADELE: 19 (2008)

1) Daydreamer; 2) Best For Last; 3) Chasing Pavements; 4) Cold Shoulder; 5) Crazy For You; 6) Melt My Heart To Stone; 7) First Love; 8) Right As Rain; 9) Make You Feel My Love; 10) My Same; 11) Tired; 12) Hometown Glory.

As of 2009, Adele Laurie Blue Adkins is one of the freshest arrivals in an interminable series of young, gifted girls living in prosperous Western society and suffering from acute psychic im­balance that forces them into a life of songwriting. Nine times out of ten, there is no middle ground with these ladies: one portion of the population, large or small, falls madly in love with them, and the other one just hates them for being boring, pretentious, and basically expendable, thinking — not without reason — that the world has been oversaturated with their "soulfulness" to such a degree that the very word "soul" has become completely devalued.

Another reason for cool people to hate Adele is her commercial success. Which, and it is a stone cold fact, was almost mathematically calculated: the album's singles, 'Chasing Pavements' and 'Cold Shoulder', are just the kind of relatively simple, but catchy adult pop that UK charts seem to have developed a particular attraction for. (Arguably, it's these two particular songs that also sound the closest to Amy Winehouse, to whom people keep comparing Adele — generally unjustly, as she's got a much more folksy vibe to her than Amy). Of course, UK charts these days are somewhat more tolerant about decent music than US ones, but still, soulful female singer-songwriters that sell lots of records are by definition a suspicious lot.

I do not find the slightest reason to believe that this dame, or her music, is a fake, though. Her weak points are the lyrics, which she probably thinks original and some probably find inspira­tional — but it's just that there's a point at which trying to express the same old same old feelings in new "deep" ways becomes a cliché in itself. Today, whenever I hear a song begin with lines like 'Daydreamer, sitting on the sea, soaking up the sun, he is a real lover, of making up the past and feeling up his girl like he's never felt her figure before', I can't help asking myself: 'Say, what happened to the old 'when I feel that something, I wanna hold your hand' routine?' Lyrically, she doesn't have anything to say that you don't already know, unless you belong to the younger gene­ration that refuses to trust anyone over 30, much less over 64 like Paul McCartney.

But in terms of pure meaningless (or, at least, verbal meaning-less) sound, she's a different matter. She's got a great voice — strong, just a tad raspy, stuck somewhere in between folk and jazz style — and an excellent sense of phrasing. And she doesn't merely rely on it, but makes it an integral part of her musical world, which is truly a musical world, not just some sensitive hack banging away at a grand piano (the Soft stereotype) or slashing out the same old grunge chords on a cheap electric guitar (the Hard stereotype). She writes interesting vocal, and occasionally instrumental, melodies, and arranges them in miriads of ways: starting out on solo acoustic, then shifting to retro-jazzier territory, then going all-out modern pop on the hit singles, then leaving out all but a set of chimes... the piano really arrives only on the last track, 'Hometown Glory', but, to tell the truth, the song could use any kind of arrangement as long as the vocal hooks stay.

So I find myself in an odd position. I honestly, sincerely do not care for Adele's inner torment. I do not care for it one instant because for a girl who is only 19 — and who insists on your knowing it — this kind of inner torment is gruesomely inadequate. 19-year old girls should, at best, be singing 'come on babe, come see about me', just like 19-year old boys should be singing about wanting to hold your hand. Maybe I've grown insensitive, but blame it on the legions of Adeles, all of which strive to achieve Shakespeare-tragedy level on their debut album because these days, you've got to be "mature" to be taken seriously.

Yet I cannot not acknowledge the talent — the hit singles, 'Hometown Glory', 'Tired', 'Crazy For You' and some other tunes have made an impression on me, and if the heaviness of their lyrics and the self-importance were cut back to match the delightful airiness and inventiveness of their melodies, I might have warmed up to the record immediately rather than after a handful of listens it took me to go beyond the initial "oh no, not that whiny 2000-teenager crap again". So here's hoping this girl, like Benjamin Button, will be growing backwards on her next albums — because otherwise, failing to become the next Joni Mitchell, she faces the imminent threat of becoming the next, ugh, Vanessa Carlton.

And so, in the heart vs. brain thing, the sympathetic heart tells the indignant brain to shut off for a minute and wins the battle with a solid, if not overwhelming, thumbs up. Will the brain eventual­ly have the upper hand? Let’s wait for the next record.

Check "19" (CD) on Amazon
Check "19" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Wait a minute, "21"? Does she plan on broadcasting her age with every record? How pretentious is that?

    1. How the hell is that pretencious?