Review Summary: Adele ages up.
The hype for Adele’s debut in 2008 was immense. Barely out of her teens, the singer was propelled to fame in Britain and the Netherlands, followed by the rest of Europe, in what seemed an instant. Chasing Pavements
rose to the top of the charts; critics lauded the record, and 19
made Adele Adkins the mainstream’s newly adored baby while her rebellious counterpart Amy Winehouse wasn’t putting out anything. And truly, the girl could sing. But behind the production and the hype hid a budding singer-songwriter that wasn’t really all that sure of herself yet: the naivety of her ballads and her sometimes unsteady vocal performance weren’t noted by her welcoming audience, and with all that hype, why would they? The girl was put in a worldwide spotlight a few years too soon.
Luckily for her, Adele did take note of her own flaws. She knew that she had to improve, to age up, and she intended to do so. 21
is a logical title for a follow-up, and both the album’s name and cover create a very deliberate contrast to 19
, to show that Adele has indeed grown. From the moment lead single Rolling in the Deep
was released last year, solely in the Netherlands thus far, it became an instant hit. Since the country was her biggest breakthrough outside of her own, it was a logical strategy to promote her second album there sooner. The tune is catchy, but also darker and more soulful: Adele did not take the easy road by duplicating her first album, and prospects were good.
Singles can be deceiving, but 21
does deliver. Adele has yet to find a style that is completely her own, but she is well on her way. In the writing department, she’s had a bit more help this time around: along with her previous collaborator Eg White, popular Brit producer Paul Epworth (Florence & The Machine, Bloc Party) and OneRepublic figure Ryan Tedder, among others, have kindly lent a hand, whilst the majority of the songs are produced by long-time Red Hot Chili Peppers-collaborator Rick Rubin. With so many people around it, Adele’s second is a far more produced affair than 19
; yet another contrast to the majority of acoustic, sparsely arranged songs that made up the latter.
The industry is all too interested in keeping Adele relevant, which is not to say that is always a bad thing. In this case, it isn’t. 21
is an obvious foray into soul, a style that Adele employed from the beginning, but now goes into much deeper. She handles her voice capably on deliberately old-school-sounding tunes as Take it All
and One and Only
, perfectly masks the fact that Lovesong
is a Cure cover, but doesn’t always explore the territories that she best fits: the chorus of Rumour Has It
just isn’t made for the girl. The album however is consistent: with this level of production and co-writing, it is easy to suspect an overly commercialized scenario, and although the target audience is obvious, this is a very decent collection of pop songs. The next single candidates are fairly predictable. The easily accessible piano ballads Turning Tables
and Someone Like You
, as well as the string-dominant, huge-chorused Set Fire to the Rain
will no doubt make radio airplay in the coming months. And in the way this is supposed to go for pop records, they are also the best moments here.
is an improvement over 19
, and what makes it that is not only the fact the Adele seems to be growing as a both a singer and a songwriter, but also that it isn’t as disjointed as its predecessor. Adele’s former record hopped between acoustic ballads and huge songs that her voice couldn’t quite tackle yet. Her follow-up shows maturation, consistency, and once again ensures her position in mainstream pop music. The public will eat it up, yes, but she isn’t undeserving of it.
Rolling in the Deep
Set Fire to the Rain
Someone Like You