Review Summary: Music for fat, pubescent girls to get dumped to.
Think the British sense of humour is more sophisticated and refined than its American equivalent? Think again. Earlier this year, Adele's "Chasing Pavements" became a national sensation in both pubs and playgrounds, as boy and man alike tried to work out what the hell this girl was singing on this song that had suddenly started appearing everywhere. Popular suggestions included both the silly ('Should I hiccup?') and the outright brilliant ('Would it be a waste/If I just came on your face?'). Even people who were seriously trying to figure it out thought the song was either called "Chasing Payment" or "Chasing Paper". It was a fleeting mondegreen classic.
The reason this review starts with that story is that it's the most interesting thing about Adele. This in spite of the amount of money, hype, and transparent PR that has followed her since day one - the girl won a Brit award before she'd even released anything substantial, for Christ's sake. They invented a whole new award just so that could happen, too. Then they paid off all the radio stations to play "Chasing Pavements" even more often than they were playing "Valerie" and "Rehab", hoping that they could catch some of that Winehouse lightning before people got tired of it.
And the PR! Something about it makes me want to praise it as cynical genius, an attempt to fuse the appeal of the three most talked-about female artists in the British media right now. She was alternatively painted as a straight-talking, sassy London girl (Lily Allen), a husky-voiced appreciator of classic soul (Amy Winehouse), and really fat (Beth Ditto). Oh, and they made sure to tell everybody that 19
was both named after her weight in stones (thus making her an icon for fat women who are proud to be fat, like Ditto), and was inspired by a break-up, just the same way that Back in Black
was. If you're fourteen and female, you could be forgiven for being taken in by all this rhetoric. Take her interviews and her press at face value and Adele seems strong, smart, talented, and a little bit dangerous. She doesn't care what she looks like or what anybody thinks, and doesn't think you should either; but, should you get dumped, she's there to sing a pretty song in your ear, too. It's more than a little reminiscent of the Spice Girls. If Adele had tunes as good as they did.
Both as a singer and as a songwriter, Adele is incredibly naive - so much so that, at times, you feel slightly sorry for her. She should never have been thrust into the limelight as early as this, because with a little maturity, experience, and training her voice could be a potentially devastating emotional weapon. She just has no idea how to use it yet. Adele doesn't sound like any of her contemporaries as much as she sounds like a blonde Texan in the American Idol auditions trying to sing a song by a Dusty Springfield or a Roberta Flack in the style of Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera. Her vocal showiness, her forced huskiness, her badly judged breath control; they all detract from her songs. Nowhere is this more obvious than on her hopelessly incompetent reading of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love".
Not that her own songs suffer too much; largely, they're mediocre in the first place. "Cold Shoulder" is the best thing here, and that's entirely because of Mark Ronson's golden touch rather than Adele. "Chasing Pavements" could have been good, but the over-the-top arrangement and Adele's unabashed vocal ground it in slightly embarrassing territory, and Adele's insistence on spending a verse repeating the chorus lyrics just smacks of laziness. The arrangements, in fact, offer another problem throughout, and it's a problem that contrasts entirely with "Chasing Pavements" - they're too basic. Adele's voice isn't yet strong enough to carry a song on its own, so why so many of the songs here have so little in the way of instrumentation is baffling. The bigger arrangements are an improvement, but they lack the imagination that characterizes the finest musical moments of Winehouse and Duffy. The melodies are largely indistinct, almost certainly the result of not putting much effort into writing them. The lyrics are the cherry on top - quite simply, she's a poor writer. "Melt My Heart to Stone" follows up its poorly conceived title with the lines 'Right under my feet/There's air made of bricks'. Okay, you get what she's trying to do - write enigmatic lines that generate interest by directly subverting expectation - but it just comes across as pointless nonsense. Elsewhere she gives in to banality far too often - is 'I like to sit on chairs and you prefer the floor' meant to be a homely, cozy picture of a loving relationship? Because it's lines like that that can put your listener into a coma.
Compared to both Back in Black
comes off so badly you actually begin to pity Adele. It can't even stack up to Gabriella Cilmi. Estelle? Leona Lewis? Yikes. Avoid.