Album Review: Adele – 21



I don’t know about you, but I feel mildly useless when people much younger than me achieve grand success. Think about your late teens and early twenties; did you do anything noteworthy?  Did you express yourself without the help of text, MSN or Facebook? Adele wrote her first album 19 when she was 19 years old and 21 when she was (surprise!) 21.  Appropriately titled, these releases are snapshots of her life at that time. And when she was 21, she had her heart broken.
Though not in chronological order, each song on 21 pinpoints a certain point in a relationship. The only courtship song, ‘One and Only’ encourages taking a chance on love. ‘He Won’t Go’ explores that uncertain time when you debate ending it, where ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ is the realization that you must. ‘Take It All’ dares him to leave and ‘Rolling in the Deep’ spews venom when he does.  Of course ‘Rumour Has It’ then details the ugliness and gossip surrounding the breakup. Next comes ‘Turning Tables’ with its self-protective vow of strength; or the ‘I Will Survive’ stage. The softer ‘Don’t You Remember’ revisits why you first fell in love, followed by an apology in ‘I’ll Be Waiting’. Finally, both ‘Lovesong’ and ‘Someone Like You’ say goodbye and make peace with the situation.
Even at her young age and relatively short career, Adele is already a master of her voice.  She and her production team have figured out how to showcase her talent without being show-offy (are you listening, Christina?)  Many tracks offer little accompaniment besides an acoustic guitar or piano, though this sometimes works against her. To be honest, the first couple of listens to Adele’s albums usually leave me underwhelmed. After falling in love with 19, and excited by the premiere single, ‘Rolling in the Deep’ I initially found 21 quiet and disappointing. If you’re finding the same thing, don’t give up. It takes a few listens to fully catch and appreciate the intricacies of each track.  If you’re an audiophile, you’ll need to play it on different mediums in various locales (yeah, I did). The only sour note on this album is the cover of ‘Lovesong’ by The Cure.  The arrangement is characteristically simple, but bland; failing to demonstrate Adele’s ability to carry a song with vocals alone.  Not only is the original preferable, but 311’s rendition was better.
In a conscious effort not to write a repeat of 19, Adele teamed up with Rick Rubin, Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedd to turn her “drunken diary ramblings” into poignant lyrics.  She also experiments with some different sounds on this record.  The defined key jabs on ‘He Won’t Go’ gives it an 80s pop/R&B flavour.  ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ channels Carole King, mixed with Brit-pop horns and ‘One and Only’ sounds like an old-school slow dance with hints of Janis Joplin.  She doesn’t stray too far from her winning formula, though.  There are a couple of upbeat pop hits, a few acoustic numbers, introspective songwriting and plenty of soulful vocals.  Like 19, 21 ends with sad sort of nostalgia that simultaneously closes one chapter while looking forward to the next one.
Yes, I realize I’m joining the masses gushing over Adele, but in all honesty there are few people who really deserve it.  It’s a relief to find a young, un-fabricated artist, in charge of her own art.  She also has the courage to use a sound that’s older than her years and most of her listeners’.  Furthermore, you won’t see her in glitter and short shorts any time soon. Not only are her vocals awe-inspiring but she has the presence of mind to turn one of the most painful periods of her life into a mature piece of art.  While there is the danger that nothing earth-shattering will happen in the next few years to inspire another album, I look forward to what her mid-twenties have in store for us.


About J2

What happens when you're a wordsy music aficionado who works for NXNE, CMW, HPX, Olio Music Festival, The JUNOs and Polaris Music Prize? You spend all of your free time blogging about it... Follow on Twitter if you're so inclined: @HearPlugged

Posted on May 26, 2011, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “I don’t know about you, but I feel mildly useless when people much younger than me achieve grand success. Think about your late teens and early twenties; did you do anything noteworthy? Did you express yourself without the help of text, MSN or Facebook?”

    I answer…. yes i expressed myself without that help.

    I just happened to skim this when i saw it on facebook but the beginning caught my eye. And to be honest your older then me so i dont think I need to explain this but… we didnt have text messaging in highschool. We passed notes. We didnt have facebook till I was in my second or third year.

    I dont really understand what social media has to do with Adele. Otherwise good review, very quietly opinionated.

    • Thanks for the comment! I do realize that we didn’t have text and Facebook back then…I also wasn’t 21 in high school. Text and Facebook have been around long enough that there are plenty of people who did have them when they were 21. I wasn’t speaking about myself in particular.

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