Adele - 21
Record Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: January 19, 2011
It seems like nowadays anyone with a decent voice and enough money to pay someone to write them a hook and record it has a good chance of having a hit single. Today's pop music scene continues to be the biggest joke in the music industry, as artists are continually produced out of thin air and discarded just as fast as they came. For the most part creativity has taken a backseat to popularity. Fortunately, that isn't always the case. British singer-songwriter Adele Adkins is one of those bright buoys in the sea of mediocrity. She exploded onto the scene with her debut album 19, a soulful whirlwind of retro-pop hits that earned her four Grammy nominations. Now, two years later and two years older, Adele has once again crafted a pop masterpiece in her sophomore record 21.
The album opens strong with “Rolling in the Deep,” the first of 21's many hit singles. Adele's powerful voice is introduced with a soft acoustic accompaniment, quickly joined by a pounding bass drum that forms the backbone of the entire song. Her vocals throughout the verses are incredible, but they don't begin to compare to the unrestricted emotion Adele showcases in the almost mournful chorus. Backing vocals lend a very soulful atmosphere to the already retro song structure but, much like the rest of the album, Adele's sensual vocal stylings take center stage and fail to disappoint.
The next track, “Rumor Has It,” is another percussion-driven jazz number that details the complexity that would obviously come with being a part of multiple love triangles. Adele is equal parts demeaning and seductive, flitting between emotional poles with an impressive elegance that's all too rare in today's music scene. The track even offers a short preview of the next in the form of a stripped-down piano bridge, where Adele's vocals carry a twinge of sweetness before being rushed away by the infectious chorus once more.
“Turning Tables” takes the piano melodies previewed in the last track and runs with them. Adele crafts in this song a heartbroken yet hopeful ambience, with help from a light string ensemble that provides a great foundation for the song without overpowering the vocals or keys. “Turning Tables” contains some of the album's greatest vocal moments, further cementing Adele's reputation as a competent vocalist showing no signs of stopping.
While 21 is a bit top-heavy, the later tracks aren't slouches. “I'll Be Waiting” is a bouncy pop song that combines the best of Adele's soulful conventions and more modern songwriting. While most of the album carries an air of heartbreak, “I'll Be Waiting” sees the hope that can come even when a relationship has fallen apart. “He Won't Go” strays into the realm of rhythm and blues, a genre lesser artists often don't respect enough when trying their hand at it. Adele's own sensibilities, however, combine wonderfully, creating a track that's catchy while still carrying that intangible quality that makes R&B such a respected style. Later on, she once again tries her hand at covering classics of the past with her rendition of The Cure's “Lovesong.” Her unique blend of tender and passionate vocals work well with the stripped down version of the song she's crafted, using acoustic guitars, simple percussion, and the same subdued string complement found in the rest of the album to really make the song her own.
From beginning to end, 21 is a refreshing take on a modern pop album. Adele remains confident alongside the album's most heartbroken lyrics, providing an emotional range that really makes this album shine. While it fails to fully ride the tidal wave created by its first half, 21 is a collection of beautifully concocted anthems that combine Adele's retro-soul philosophy with a present-day attitude that few pop acts will be able to follow. Bring on 23.