ADELE: 21 (2011)
1) Rolling In The Deep; 2) Rumor Has It; 3) Turning Tables; 4) Don't You Remember; 5) Set Fire To The Rain; 6) He Won't Go; 7) Take It All; 8) I'll Be Waiting; 9) One And Only; 10) Lovesong; 11) Someone Like You; 12*) If It Hadn't Been For Love; 13*) Hiding My Heart; 14*) I Found A Boy.
Captain Obvious suggests that 21 can refer to two more years of growth and experience for Adele after her debut with 19; Captain Irony, however, argues that it really reflects the number of male human beings that managed to break Adele's heart and dump her body in the interim — the best available explanation for the fact that profanated, betrayed, and simply lost love is just about the only lyrical and emotional subject of the record. (Unless, of course, "We could have had it all, rolling in the deep" is really supposed to be sung from the perspective of Dick Cheney — or, closer to home, Gordon Brown — but that's pushing philological analysis a bit too far).
Anyway, "rumor has it" that there has really only been one painful break-up, but she capitalized on it quickly and richly enough. Considering that approximately 99% of music that tries to combine «commercial orientation» with «seriousness» is about broken hearts — the only serious topic that is considered safe enough for our fragile brains — it would be impossible to approach 21 without prejudice. But on the other hand, in Adele's case it does represent a little bit of that «growing backwards» thing I mentioned in my review of 19: cutting down on the over-acted romantic mysticism in favour of a little more grit and, well, honesty, pardon the expression.
So? On its own terms — a proverbial blue-eyed soul album about emotional pain — 21 is a masterpiece, definite proof that 19 was no fluke and that, together, the two records will make musical history even if they are not followed by 23, 25... 99. Yes, occasionally she still has this unsettling tendency to slip into faceless formula: 'Turning Tables', while not bad, is that kind of «sensitive girl wailing by the piano» thing that is generated by the likes of Vanessa Carlton and cloned incessantly on an almost daily basis; and 'He Won't Go' leans dangerously close to conventional modern R'n'B, particularly the verse melody which could as well have come from Beyoncé. Well, she can't do it on her own, after all, and since this is not indie music we're speaking of, there are bound to be some concessions to the crappy standards.
All of them are, however, in an absolute minority next to her own songwriting and singing. It is goddamn hard to make a soul tune memorable — there is always the temptation to just hang it all on the «soul» itself, as if the very fact that you let, or pretend to let, a supernatural force possess you behind the microphone should be enough for claiming a Classic Moment in Pop Music. She does not: the songs are cleverly written, with hooks, interesting melodic twists, sometimes, exciting arrangement decisions ('Rumor Has It', because of the booming percussion, has an almost Tom Waits-ish Bone Machine-like quality to it), captivating build-ups and fade-outs — stuff that you rarely, if ever, expect to find in an album like this.
I dare anyone to challenge the technical perfection, for instance, with which the drama unfolds in 'Rolling In The Deep', a song that is like the musical equivalent of a series of uniformly accelerating snowballs rolling downhill — and all of it achieved through a relatively minimal arrangement (guitar, piano, drums, and backing vocals arriving on the scene one after the other in a subtle manner). Or 'Set Fire To The Rain', with the finest chorus on the album — this time, she does it on a grand scale, but a fully adequate one; the song is anthemic and pretentious, and to justify it, she taxes her voice to the max, and hits the jackpot.
The album is often described as a «retro» experience — most of the time, I did not really get that feeling, unless we automatically consider any album that stays away from electronics to be «retro». That said, some of the songs are built on soul and R'n'B rhythms popular around the 1970s: 'Don't You Remember', 'I'll Be Waiting', 'One And Only', and, just like the best songs from that decade, each is based around a singularly impressive chorus. Ah, that good old fashioned way of naming your song after its major vocal hook — one glance at the title and you can remember how it goes in an instant.
It's not as if she has invented a new way of looking at breakups, of course, and it's not very likely that one will always enjoy all the songs equally (my disfavourites include 'He Won't Go', the slightly Celine Dion-ish 'Take It All', and the overlong Latinized take on The Cure's 'Lovesong', although it's sort of okay for the first two minutes), but the bottomline is: if you already loved 19, you can't go wrong with the next odd number, and if you were skeptical, 21 is liable to significantly exceed your expectations the way it exceeded mine.
Thumbs up — now you have one more reason to watch the videos and vent your dark impulses by commenting on the size of her cheeks along with the regular low-life forms that inhabit YouTube. For that matter, if you happen to disagree with my subjective assessment, here is an alternative review of 'Rolling In The Deep' for your pleasure taken from that particular source (whoever said that evolution rarely, if ever, works backwards?):
LOL this song is abslolute fucking SHIT! i thought this fat slag had fucked off and what do u know, shes back fatter and shitter than ever! fuck adele and all her shit cunt followers fuck off CUNTS!
Check "21" (CD) on Amazon
Check "21" (MP3) on Amazon