ADELE: LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL (2011)
1) Hometown Glory; 2) I'll Be Waiting; 3) Don't You Remember; 4) Turning Tables; 5) Set Fire To The Rain; 6) If It Hadn't Been For Love; 7) My Same; 8) Take It All; 9) Rumour Has It; 10) Right As Rain; 11) One And Only; 12) Lovesong; 13) Chasing Pavements; 14) I Can't Make You Love Me; 15) Make You Feel My Love; 16) Someone Like You; 17) Rolling In The Deep.
Not a lot of people, I would guess, get to play the Albert Hall upon releasing only two albums. To the skeptics, this would probably mean a gruesomely played out PR campaign — and to the idealists, it would be a confirmation that here we finally have something really great, really otherworldly, so phenomenally talented that even the tightassed music industry bosses have to kowtow before this unbelievable power of a 21-year old upstart who doesn't even have the sex appeal of a Taylor Swift. And in a way, both the skeptic and the idealist would be right.
The album, actually, is not a «proper» CD release: the entire concert was predictably captured on video, and comes in DVD format with all the tracks duplicated on an audio CD. However, I do feel, upon both watching and listening, that this is an important release in «The Extraordinary Story Of Adele A.», deserving of its own brief review — not to mention that it did sell around 3 million copies worldwide, and hit No. 2 on the UK charts as well, which is fairly impressive for a live album these days.
First of all, the setlist is a little discomforting — with only two albums behind her back, she reproduces 21 almost in its entirety, with less than half of 19 getting an honorable mention; surely at least such highlights as ʽDaydreamʼ or ʽCold Shoulderʼ deserved, well, more than a cold shoulder. Some of the reasons could be technical — for instance, much of the material on 19 was rather sparsely arranged, leaving out many members of her current touring band (which, for this particular occasion, also includes a small orchestra), or perhaps she already thought of some of those early songs as tentative or even «dated». But it wouldn't have hurt, then, to compensate maybe with some obscurities or covers, considering how she has the same knack for doing Bob Dylan or The Cure as she has for her own songs.
Second, the lady has an obvious stage problem — not so evident on the audio CD, which generously cuts out all the banter, but very irritating on the DVD, where almost every song is introduced with around two to five minutes of narrative on life experience told in prime quality Tottenham dialect. Frankly speaking, the few bits I did manage to understand were neither too insightful nor particularly funny, and overall, the impression was very much the same I get from listening to Ani DiFranco live albums: the artist is trying way too hard to come across as a «real human being» — in a sense, this really comes across as a condescending gesture: trying to get the audience to relax and shed its tenseness and confusion in the presence of The Great Artist, who is really The Average Everyday Person in artistic disguise. (Also agrees with the swearing — heavy use of the F-word is one of the true features of the AEP, and so, in the good old tradition of Pete Townshend and Co., there is plenty of that there. One might ask why the heck isn't there any actual swearing in the songs, then — oh, right, to avoid radio censorship.)
Fortunately, this talkative attitude does not seep in much into the music, other than a few evil cackles every now and then that she inserts at the end of the songs to beat down the pathos level (see ʽRumour Has Itʼ, for instance). The music is flawless — since she is no R&B queen and does not feel the need to flutter around the stage, this allows her to fully concentrate on the singing, and every single tune is done at least as well as on the original version, and occasionally maybe even better. (She does not play any instruments here, although she used to in the early days of 19 — but now that she can afford as many backup players as she needs, why bother?). The only disappointment is ʽRollin' In The Deepʼ, where a large chunk of the chorus vocals is given over to the audience — when the first "we could have had it all..." comes along and Adele is not in it at all, that's sort of a bummer. But I guess it must have felt different back there: audience participation feels like a total gas until you get to hear it reproduced on an audio recording.
Anyway, returning to the beginning of the review, Live At The Royal Albert Hall really does show that the Adele phenomenon owes its success to about fifty percent genius and fifty percent meticulous image calculation — which is alright by me, since that's the way it's been since the Beatles, heck, since Mozart and Liszt, I guess. By all means, the DVD is epochal and a must-have, capturing all the strengths and weaknesses of the artist at the same time: in fact, despite the generally negative feel I have about this wound-up stage image, the contrast between how she looks and sounds when chattering away and when singing one of her soulful ballads or rhythmic stompers is strong enough to make you appreciate «Adele the artist» even more than you did before you got the chance to «know» a little bit of her as «Adele the commoner». Thumbs up.