Search This Blog

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Adele: 21

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


  1. Youtube comments are living proof that something must have gone horribly wrong in the development of human morality.

    God bless your nerves of steel, George.

  2. Hmm. Nice comment there. Sounds like Alan McGee on a bad day. Or maybe on a good day, I don't know.

  3. I like how the quoted youtube comment serves as a preemptive ad hominen: "Well, you don't like Adele? Then you must be a foulmouthed uneducated brat with lots of psychological issues about women, right?" :)

    Anyway, I for one wholly agree with George's assessment of Adele's followup album: not entirely original, a good retro vibe, but the girl is talented and fresh, especially for the commercial setting she's living in. (It also helps a lot that usually don't pay attention to the lyrics in the music I listen.)

    But I can't help wondering: she's young and promising, I feel that she has what it takes to be great (talent, inspiration, strong will, productiveness, etc.), but will she have the strength to grow in some way or another (hopefully outgrowing the commercial constraints), or will she wither away (dozens of similar records / autodestruction / …)?

    PS: any chance for reviews of Alela Diane?

  4. For your interest:

    Adele's vocal range on 21

    Adele's vocal range on 19

  5. Let me start by saying I'm a 42 y.o female. While at my office about 3 weeks ago, a song came on the radio that stopped me in my tracks. I got out of my chair, went to check the radio station and immediately did an internet search to find out what this heavenly voice was. It was Adele singing "Rolling in the Deep". That night I went home and ordered this cd.

  6. Man. I This album absolutely blew me away- little by little, of course. I got into it through "Rolling in the Deep", also of course, and I think that one of the best things about the record is that there are NO SYNTHESIZERS OR PRODUCTION TRICKS besides the multitracking of Adele's voice and ear channel stuff. THANK GOD. I used to love synthesizers, but then my sister showed me this one song off of the soundtrack for the Disney Channel movie Starstruck called "Something About the Sunshine"...uh, where was I? "Rolling in the Deep" is flawless, unless you don't know what the titular phrase means. I used to think the backup vocals were annoying, but they aren't. The whole charm of the song, though, lies in its arrangement- to see how the song can be ruined, see the acapella Glee version. "Rumour Has It" is also flawless, and quite creepy and angry, and when Adele sings "But rumour has it she ain't got yo' love anymore" I can just see her snapping her fingers in a Z formation. "Turning Tables" may be generic in form, but it's not faceless- can't you hear her crying in the song? "Don't You Remember" is one of my least favorites because the notes in the chorus are so draaaaaaawn out, and the acoustic verse seems a little primitive. But it's a good song. "Set Fire to the Rain", though, is AMAZING! It's AMAZING! A power ballad with an incredible chorus, and even though the verses might seem a little empty, the "but there's a side...of you...that I never knew never knew" makes up for it. "He Won't Go" is a little faceless, but I love singin' along to it. "Take It All", then, is AWESOME to sing along to- especially the little tiny parts where the backups come in. And the piano is the only instrument in the song. "I'll Be Waiting" is another one of my least favorites, as it seems kinda primitive, too, with kinda silly verses, but who cares when you've got a brass arrangement? Those can make everything better. "One and Only" is the MOST fun to sing along to, and, well, if this was the first song you heard by Adele, you would think she was African-American. The cover of "Lovesong" is extremely sad, and it seems as if it should be played during the end credits of a movie where everyone dies. And it kinda sounds horrible when Adele goes "I will always looooooooooooove you". Her voice is, like, breaking! She's so sad! "Someone Like You" is pretty famous, and it's the OTHER track where the only instrument is the piano. And in the chorus, how on Earth does she hit those notes? Great, great album.

  7. "[S]he taxes her voice to the max, and hits the jackpot." Nice line - and in the spirit of the music reviewed. I'd zip the youtube comment, though, downer to conclude your work, why bother?

  8. You know an album is a modern classic when you have not listened to it consciously in your life, is less than 2 years old, and when you check out the Youtube links you discover you know all the songs and thought they were much older because you don't remember not having heard them.

  9. A thought just occurred to me, George, and it would interest me to hear your opinion on this.

    I can't help but notice how Adele's 21 has many parallels to Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. Of course Jagged Little Pill can't hold a candle to 21, but when one looks aside differences in quality, the similarities become all too clear.

    A young, semi-literate woman who, at the age of 21, records an impassioned pop album with soulful, at times furious, vocals and lyrics straight from the heart. And the lyrics of both albums primarily involve... a breakup. Almost every song on both 21 and Jagged Little Pill involve a breakup in some way (although songs like "Perfect" and, to some extent, "Mary Jane" off the latter deviate from the theme).

    Both albums have yielded at least half-a-dozen singles, and are multi-platinum successes.

    The real question this provokes is if an artist like Adele, an arguably far more talented and adequate artist than Alanis, can maintain her success and not fade like her predecessor.