Saturday, February 05, 2011
Album Review: Adele - 21 (4.5/5)
When Adele released her debut album, 19, expectations were high for the young British singer, who'd basically been declared the hottest new act of the year. The album was a major success, garnered international sales and acclaim for the singer, particularly its hit single "Chasing Pavements."
Three years on and now she's released its follow-up, the similarly titled 21, which manages to consolidate and enhance what made 19 a success. As good as 19 was, it was sometimes inconsistent, suffering from the typical first-album fracturing when different sounds are foisted on a new voice to see what sticks. Kelly Clarkson's 2003 debut, Thankful, for example, suffered from this type of exploration, whereas Breakaway, her 2004 follow-up, was a better and more cohesive set. Similarly, 21, despite having twice as many producers as her first album, manages to sound more unified without a bad song in the bunch.
Thankfully, the highlights are also scattered throughout the album, making for a thorougly engaging listen from start to finish. The opening power pop first single, "Rolling in the Deep," is followed by the funky, upbeat "Rumour Has It," which features a piano & strings pause about two-thirds the way through its frenetic handclaps. "Set Fire to the Rain" is another power pop hit-in-waiting with a lushly layered musical arrangement that Adele's robust pipes match note for note.
In the wake of the success of piano ballads "Hometown Glory" and "Make You Feel My Love," we get more of those, and they're equally brilliant, if not better. Early track "Turning Tables" has a lovely strings section under the thundering keys and Adele's lovelorn vocal, and "Take It All" provides a delicious touch of classic soul. Even better though is the tender "Someone Like You," as a good a closing track of any pop album in recent years. Queued up as the album's second single, it's already selling strong on the British singles chart, reaching the 40 this week.
Adele's first album was released in the wake of Amy Winehouse's landmark second album, when everyone it seemed was trying to sound like they were straddling the '60s and the '00s. Adele's sound has moved on from neo-soul to a more timeless style of vocal pop, with a sound that spans decades of styles. She gives us a bit of country croon on "Don't You Remember," a touch of '70s soul on "He Won't Go," and some Sting-like downbeat acoustics on "Lovesong" (a Cure remake). If the production felt a little thin at times on 19, that's certainly not the case on 21, yet it never threatens to overshadow the singer's voice, as the backing and vocal are held in perfect balance, albeit a high-capacity one.
In a way, 21 is a concept album like 19 was, documenting a year in the life of a young singer. This time around she's famous of course, but that doesn't mean the heartbreak stings any less. Still, the ability to transform a dead relationship into top 40 gold has to provide some level of consolation. It's certainly given us 2011's first fine pop album.
Best: Someone Like You, Rumour Has It, Rolling in the Deep, Set Fire to the Rain, Lovesong