Let me preface this article by saying that I am a huge Adele fan. It is not anything to be concerned about. I’m not unstable in my appreciation of her music. But I do own just about everything she has put out and am probably not neutral in my opinions of her albums. I see that as a good thing. If you are looking at an Adele album review, you don’t really want to read an unbiased review. If you don’t like her, nothing I say is going to make you race to Target to grab the Deluxe CD. And if you do like her, my comments won’t stop that. It is like any heated Facebook post that goes up: I’m not changing your mind; you’re not changing mine.
Why do I like her so much? First, she is ridonkulously talented. I remember when she performed on the Grammy’s after her throat surgery. Everyone else had been putting on these crazy, over-the-top performances out there. The songs were the fourth or fifth most important thing behind the dancers, the outfits, the explosions, and the drama. Then Adele got up on stage with a small band, her background singers, and ripped off a routinely beautiful version of Rolling in the Deep and the crowd lost their collective minds. Even in an auditorium full of singers, artists, musicians, and performers (they are NOT all the same thing), Adele stood out and they all appreciated just how much they couldn’t keep up.
Second, I think Adele is a funny and endearing person. She doesn’t seem fake (which you must take with a grain of salt with celebrities. Many stars spend millions to come across as simple and unassuming.) She doesn’t fit into society’s warped body image obsession. She says stupid things like a normal person would. She jokes around, cusses, and has a laugh that is very similar to Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. All of this has ramped up with this third album. After getting her throat repaired, finding love, and having a kid, she has developed into a more confident, more talented, more easy-going version of her previously confident, talented, easy-going persona. It is like how Steph Curry is even more dominating this year than he was last year. Adele got better when it didn’t appear she could get better. There should be more celebrities like her out there.
Everyone reading this has probably seen the news about the album by now. It destroyed the record for highest selling first week sales – which had been set back when albums still sold. The reviews have been overwhelmingly gushing. And the publicity tour has generated some really great YouTube moments. As a fan, I have enjoyed all of this whirlwind. But, over a week removed from the launch of #Adele25, does it all still stand up? This is my assessment of the album, track by track. I’m not a music expert, but I love music. So this is simply what I think when I hear the songs.
I loved how this song just showed up. There wasn’t much warning. I just saw an update on Facebook that the song was out on iTunes. To the fans, it was like a long-lost friend showed up at the door and just said, “Hello.” And it was exactly what we wanted. It sounded like Adele, with the big voice and the sweeping music. There was the standard “love gone wrong” tone woven throughout. It was great. But it was different, which was also good. It wasn’t the wronged and hurting Adele we saw in 19 and 21. She wasn’t lashing out at an ex or crying in the corner. SHE was apologizing and trying to make amends. Then the gorgeous video came out, which brought even more emotional depth to the song. Combine all of that and you have a huge hit that fits in perfectly with Adele’s biggest hits, but with just enough of a twist to know that this is not just a redux of 21.
Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
The first time my eleven-year-old daughter heard this song, she said it would be a hit. It has that feel about it. (It is her favorite song on the album.) It has Adele’s characteristic qualities – big vocals, rumination on a lousy ex. But it is very different. I could not care less about who produced it and what other stuff he did. The fact is that this is Adele’s “poppiest” offering that I can remember. That is the thing about Adele, something that came up in some great reviews I read last week. She is an anomaly. She shouldn’t fit into the pop world. Yet, she not only fits in, she rules it. This song is the first one that kind of fits that naturally fits into that landscape. It is bouncy and humorous and vicious. In other words, perfect for the Adele of 25.
I Miss You
I like this song a lot. It has a 80s R&B/Soul throwback quality to it. I could imagine Sade singing something like it back in the day. There are rolling drum beats, tinkling piano, and lots of sassy background vocals. When I was trying to picture what the song reminded me of, Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers popped into my mind. And, I swear, the guy singing background vocals sounds just like him (I can’t find anything that says it is him, so I’m guessing it is just a dopplesinger. Yes I went there.) The song is throaty and smoky and sexy. It seems like something that perfectly fits Adele’s library of music, but it also stands out on this album because she doesn’t dwell in that genre much on 25.
When We Were Young
A lot of people made a huge deal about this song. It was co-written with some Canadian genius with a weird name. Adele has said it is her favorite one on the album. But it is actually second to the bottom for me. (That is like saying that A Bug’s Life is the second worst Pixar movie when it is better than 90% of animated movies.) I can’t put my finger on why I don’t LOOOOVE it. Part of it is that I have trouble relating to it, I think. When I hear it, I picture her singing to these old high school friends and that one guy who still is swoon-worthy even after years have gone by. I don’t usually feel that way when I think of high school. I have very few people I have kept in contact with from that era. Truthfully, it wasn’t my favorite time and I don’t sit there and yearn for those days. So, songs about that don’t always work (although I do like some of those types of songs like Summer of 69, 1985, and Andy You’re a Star). The other big element, though, is that I just don’t embrace the music – especially when it gets to the end with the background singers echoing, “When weeeee were young. When weeeee were young.” I can’t help but hearing a special music performance at a church of a song that I don’t quite like.
A while ago, I remember reading a great article about U2 (another band I’m biased towards). The author was talking about the song With or Without You and saying it shows how brilliant of a musician The Edge is. The whole song was building, matching the building emotion and yearning in the song. As it reached the climax, when most guitarists would break out a wailing guitar solo, The Edge just plays a quiet string of notes. It was wholly satisfying in its lack of satisfaction, and it was something that not everyone could or would do. I thought of this when I heard Remedy. In the hands of a lesser artist (Rihanna, Demi Lovato) this would be an opportunity to bust out the big Broadway moment. Adele has a piano and that’s it – no background singers, no strings section, no massive vocal moments. And it is exactly how it should be. It is an intimate song between a couple. It is one of those moments that really define a good relationship – not the over-the-top declarations of love, rather the quiet moments of “I’ve got your back. What can I do to help you through this?” I appreciated this song so much and it went on my list of songs for my wife. “When the pain cuts you deep,When the night keeps you from sleeping … When the world seems so cruel, And your heart makes you feel like a fool, I promise you will see That I will be your remedy.”
Water Under the Bridge
This is another song with a throwback feel to it. It has some of the same 80s qualities as Miss You, but not the sultry overtones. It dives into the familiar themes of loss and a relationship ending. This time, Adele questions how could it all be over when there are clearly feelings still there. And she tries to remind her lover that their coupling should not be tossed aside so easily. I’ve seen a few people who have said this is their favorite song on the album. It is poppy and fun and has some cool elements to it. I would almost like to hear some covers of this song, by someone like Elle King or Pink, to see if their attitude would bring a different feel to the offering.
There has to be a “last place” song on an album. For me, it is River Lea. It is not a bad song, by any stretch of the imagination. Several reviews I read loved it. And there are some cool elements in the song, like blaming the river she grew up by for her wandering nature. And I like her apologizing years in advance for the damage she will cause. I think the song missed some opportunities, some of which are not even Adele’s fault. I challenge you to listen to the song and picture an in-her-prime Tina Turner, or even my new fave Elle King, belting this out and you may see what it could have been. Adele didn’t bring enough sass to the proceedings. She has sass – we hear it in songs all the time. But there just isn’t enough stank. And it also maximizes the ranges where Adele isn’t always the best – her deep register, especially.
Love in the Dark
You know that restraint that I talked about on Remedy? This song is where Adele takes the reigns off and goes for broke. It starts off as another breakup song, this time with Adele ending it and shattering her man’s heart. There is a simple piano track at the beginning. That soon gives way to a glorious symphony, complete with massive string section. (My violin-playing daughter loved that part.) The song could fit into any Broadway show or movie drama. And Adele certainly brings the goods to the song. She belts with the best of them and sounds beautiful backed by the strings and solitary piano. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a common audition song for potential divas.
Million Years Ago
I dare you to listen to this song and not picture some European cafe – at least the Hollywood version of a European cafe. You have the Spanish guitar in the background. The song could easily fit in with some nostalgic Italian movie. (There is a great opportunity for some Italian or Spanish singer to cover the song – anyone come to mind?) It is a sweet song of reminiscence – thinking back on friends and family and choices. I’ll use this opportunity to address one of the jabs/criticisms about the album. There is a lot of looking back in this album, and people like to make comments like this one from Slate. “Reminder, because Adele seems to forget it: She is still only 27.” Just because a person is not a senior citizen, it doesn’t mean that she cannot be reflective. I appreciate those elements because I think it is natural (or should be) for people to think back on things and figure out how they play a role in what is happening now. It isn’t like this is some 19 year-old writing an autobiography. This is a mom approaching 30. Her life changed a TON in the last few years. It is normal to take moments to enjoy, regret, replay memories.
All I Ask
Adele joined Bruno Mars to make this song. Read that again. Adele joined Bruno Mars to make this song. Possibly the two most talented musicians out there combining forces? I only hope that at some awards show or some big name concert that these two will sing it together. You can hear Bruno all through the song and you can hear him singing it, if he had wanted to. This is my favorite song on the whole album. The pain that is tearing through the whole thing is just overwhelming. I heard a DJ on the radio the other day say he can’t even listen to the whole thing yet because he tears up. It carries a king-sized punch of emotion. It is the heart-breaking story of a doomed couple. There is nothing they can do to save their relationship and they both know it. She just wants it to end with something good to remember through the avalanche of pain and loss that is coming. And this song is also another demonstration of the genius of restraint. It could be backed with a huge orchestra. Just a piano again. It’s like that couple from Remedy are breaking up. Heartbreaking.
A big part of Adele’s transformation from the nervous and reticent songstress of 21 to the comfortable and jovial entertainer of 25 has to be attributed to the birth of her son. She has said as much in interviews. And this song really demonstrates just how much she enjoys being a parent. It is hard to describe just how it feels to become a parent. Even as you prepare yourself mentally through the gestation process, the full deluge of emotions doesn’t hit until you hold that baby for the first time. It forces you to become a different person: more responsible, more careful, more flexible, more silly. I love this song because it really brings that journey to life. The amount of love a parent has for that little bundle is hard to express, but Adele does it well in a touching tribute to her little guy.
So the final evaluation is that the album is very good. It is easily re-listenable, and that is a good thing. Remember, this thing just came out and we probably have about nine months of hearing singles from the album hitting the airwaves. I can easily see five or six hits off the album (Hello, When We Were Young, Send My Love To Your New Lover, All I ask, Water Under the Bridge, and possibly a surprise like Love in the Dark). That will then lead into the Grammy performance, the Fall 2016 award show performances, the inevitable Grammy nominations and album resurgence, the end of 2016 recap magazines. #Adele25 is just getting started, people.