It’s been three years since we last heard new material from pop stalwart, Adele. Her second album 21 is a modern day classic, propelled into success by an emotive Brits performance of heartbreak favourite, ‘Someone Like You’. She’s since broken countless records, won several awards including a Grammy for her Bond theme, ‘Skyfall’… and then she just disappeared. The bubbly singer-songwriter from Tottenham is known by quite literally everyone on the planet, and its no surprise; possessing one of the most effortlessly sublime singing voices of our age really should receive that level of recognition. So naturally, it was no wonder many of us were starting to worry whether she would ever return with a follow up to her runaway success. Adele fans rejoice: 25 is finally here.
Introducing us to her new material with single ‘Hello’ last month, her latest offering has already broken records, including in its first week of release becoming the biggest selling album of 2015 (sorry Bieber). Returning now after releasing the album that made her so famous, it’s likely she would have been worried her latest material wouldn’t make the grade. However, on first listen, it seems Adele’s talents are still just as strong and credible as before. ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ is much more of a sassy, upbeat track in contrast to ‘Hello’ and helps to confirm the statement Adele released about this LP: ‘My last record was a break-up record, and if I had to label this one, I would call it a make-up record. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did. 25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realising.’
The latter sentiment is echoed throughout 25, and while some might say it doesn’t sound like a make-up album, many songs are not just about the topic of love and heartbreak. An example of this is ‘Million Years Ago’, in which not only does she utilise her smoky lower register, but she also sings of looking back and wishing she had done things differently: ‘I miss it when life used to be a party to be thrown / but that was a million years ago’. It echoes the sentiment many people feel as they grow older, looking back on past mistakes and experiencing that all too well-known feeling of regret. ‘River Lea’ reads as an apology – ‘I know it’s years in advance / but I’d rather say it now in case I never get the chance’ – and she sorrowfully sings of righting her wrongs by blaming it on the titular river.
It’s almost become a joke these days that if someone’s having a hard time, going through a break-up and trying to get over someone, you advise them to open a bottle of wine and listen to Adele… and this album lives up to that theme. It wouldn’t be an Adele record without tracks that tug on the heartstrings and give your tear ducts a good exercise, now would it? ‘When We Were Young’ gives the listener their first touch of real, raw emotion, with a truly gorgeous and nuanced delivery of her signature heartbreaking lyrics, comparing her lost lover to feeling ‘like home / you’re like a dream come true’ and asking if he still cares. ‘Love in the Dark’ harks back significantly to 21 and is one of the highlights for me on this album; it sounds like an instant classic, and it is illustrative of just how well Adele can deliver those strong piano ballads. There is some criticism from sceptics that much of her material sounds the same, and this can at times be a fair comment. Many of the tracks on 25 could easily have been pulled from 21, some even from critically-acclaimed debut 19, however the beauty of someone such as Adele is that despite this, she’s far too compelling an artist; she is undoubtedly one of the best vocalists of our generation with even the simplest of notes delivering a sense of grandeur.
It misses the punching anthems of 21, most notably songs such as ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Rumour Has It’, however her collaborations with the likes of Ryan Tedder and Tobias Jesso Jr. are evident on this LP. 25 sounds just as strong as 21 and can easily stand its own ground, perhaps achieving an even more mature edge – this is something that didn’t seem possible given the emotional standing of her previous effort. The album as a whole feels like a marriage of not just her old influences with an Adele twist, but also feels like a marriage of all the parts of her we know and love; the heartbroken lover, the brooding songstress, the bolshy young woman. This is most evident on a personal favourite of mine, ‘Water Under The Bridge’. It’s one of the strongest tracks on the album, both in terms of production and composition but also lyrically; Adele takes a stand and expresses to her lover, ‘don’t pretend that you don’t want me / our love ain’t water under the bridge’ which paints it as one of the most anthemic songs in the collection.
25 isn’t going to please everyone. Being the follow up to an album as well known and loved as 21, I know that some people may be disappointed. However, considering her last LP’s status, I think it’s safe to say that Adele is well and truly back with a decent album. 25 proves that she can still write a bloody good song or two, make a powerful statement and it feels as though she never truly went away.
[Originally written for Redbrick Music]