Adele ’25’ – Review

29 Nov

Some facts about ’25’: it sold more copies in its first week than the rest of the top 40 combined. It became the biggest selling album of 2015 in a matter of hours and the fastest selling album of all time in six days. It also sold more copies in its first week than any other album in U.S. History. It is currently number one in all but nine countries across the globe. In other words, there are a lot of people heavily invested in Adele and they will all have high expectations for this, her first album in four years. The good news for them is that ’25’ sounds an awful lot like the beloved ’21’ – which is surely what the vast majority of fans want? Adele has teamed up with an enviable cast of producers and songwriters; from established names like Ryan Tedder, Paul Epsworth, Bruno Mars and Greg Kurstin to the relatively untested (when it comes to big pop productions) Tobias Jesso Jr and Danger Mouse. If these names sound somewhat brave on paper, they feel less so upon listening to the album. They’ve added a few new colours to Adele’s palette but ’25’ is undoubtedly a conservative album.

Generally, these songs still dwell in the realm of heartbreak but it’s less the subject this time and more the backdrop. They are about being in your mid 20s and looking back on youth with a mixture of fondness and regret. This is quarter-life crisis music. To that end it is another very serious album that occasionally takes itself a little too seriously. ‘Hello’ was a disappointing lead single. It’s a dreary song that lacks the drama of ‘Rolling in the Deep’, the beautiful sadness of ‘Someone Like You’ or the quirkiness of her early releases. It played in to the hands of the cynics – they’d always maintained her songs were boring and bland. Now they were right. Some of that overbearing moodiness creeps in to other songs as well. The heavy brooding of the gospel ballad ‘River Lea’ feels almost claustrophobic, and closer ‘Sweet Disposition’ merely comes over as an epic remake of ‘Set Fire to the Rain’. You’re left wishing that the biggest selling album of 2015, if not eventually the decade, contained a little more joy.

The songs with a lighter touch work far better; the delicate, Bruno Mars penned ‘All I Ask’ and the sweet, folky ‘Million Years Ago’ are exemplary. But if Adele really is determined to cast herself as the melodramatic diva ‘Hello’ sets her up as, she could do worse than look to the brilliant ‘I Miss You’ for inspiration, which works a melancholic melody around a minor key chord progression, booming percussion and pitch distorted backing vocals (showing just how far the influence of Burial has spread).

The Max Martin produced ‘Send My Love to Your New Lover’ asserts Adele’s playfulness with one of her most sparkling melodies to date. Her cheery, clipped vocals show a restrained side to the singer and the lyrics are buoyant and fair, imparting wisdom with a more generous tone. Ex-lovers are now more than simply agitators and targets; she is thankful for what they have taught her and sympathetic to their new victims. ‘Water Under the Bridge’ is another bright, potential single that shows the discernible influence of Haim with it’s breathy harmonies and rhythmic guitar rhythms.

To my ears there isn’t anything in the same league as ‘Rolling in the Deep’ or ‘Someone Like You’ and overall ’25’ doesn’t quite pack the same punch as ’21’. That album described lost love from a close vantage point in very immediate, raw terms. Here Adele is picking apart scars years on. Her mood is reflective, her style is analytical and her tone is even handed. This is not the visceral break up album 21 was. but that’s the kind of album you only get to make once – to attempt it again would be trite. ’25’ is flawed but irresistible in its own way and a brilliant reminder of why Adele became popular in the first place.

Adele’s greatest weapon has always been her voice. The quirky, cockney affectations that endeared us to her to begin with have all been smoothed out on ’25’. In those early days she was clearly competing alongside fellow Londoners Lilly Allen, Kate Nash and Amy Winehouse. Now, that competition has all but disappeared. In 2015 she ranks alongside the greats – you can hear hints of everyone from Aretha Franklin to Beyonce on ’25’. Her voice is more astonishing than ever; deeper, richer and even more manoeuvrable, it has matured in to something wonderful. This isn’t the most innovative, exciting or consistent record, but as a demonstration of her depth, range and technical ability – not to mention her stunning capacity to find emotion and impress that on the listener – ’25’ is unmatched.

7.5/10

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