21 by Adele
There’s something refreshing about the emergence of female singers who are more than just sex appeal with a career as a singer on the side. Sure, pop divas like Britney Spears and Rihanna can knock out a dance hit like no other, but talented, soulful female singers have so much more staying power that returning to their music down the line is like reuniting with an old friend.
Adele’s 21 debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, selling a healthy 352,000 copies. This is probably explained by the fact that it’s powerful, relatable, and absolutely astounding. Her two albums, 19 and 21, are named for her age at the time she wrote the songs, which is definitely a contributing factor in my amazement as they communicate a jaded, tired, but hopeful heart that’s been tread on a hundred times over. At age 22, Adele has a well-established vocal style that’s been proven to be as substantial as it is flexible, melding effortlessly with distinctly different styles found within her records. This soulful, lilting collection of tunes pays homage to several iconic vocalists and songwriters (Adele has name dropped greats like Tom Waits, Sinead O’Connor, Mary J. Blige and Neko Case) while still not losing any freshness. By establishing that elusive, perfect balance between influence and originality, the resulting recording is striking, complex and diverse.
Every song on 21 has two essential components: a line (or several) that will tug on your heart and a hook that will be glued in your head for days. The first track, the single “Rolling in the Deep,” is catchy (a fact to which just about everyone who’s heard it can attest), but pales in comparison to tracks like “Rumour Has It” and “I’ll Be Waiting,” songs that smack of self-assurance and sass. The vibe on these tunes is directly contradictory to several more songs that are decidedly more heartbreaking and self-deprecating. To provide a small sampling, my favorite line from “Set Fire to the Rain,” a raw, dynamic song laden with anguish and longing: “my knees were far too weak to stand in your arms without falling to your feet.” Ouch.
Adele also covers the Cure’s “Lovesong,” which is by far one of the band’s most popular and most frequently covered tracks. It’s been done so many times by all different kinds of bands, but this version sounds fresh and fits seamlessly with the rest of the album both musically and lyrically.
I think my favorite aspect of Adele’s style, though, is that she never lets her vocal skill, however spectacular, overpower the song. While other singers can let their voices go completely out of control in an irritating parade of vocal dexterity, Adele keeps things unpretentious. Her unwillingness to obstruct the messages and emotions in the lyrics keeps her style simple and clean. At the same time, each song still does justice to her amazing voice, without overstating or understating it. Legitimately, the only thing this album is severely lacking is a bad song. Seriously. My least favorite track is “He Won’t Go,” but it’s not even necessarily bad- just a little bland compared to the punch that’s packed by the rest of 21.
With a broad range of influences, Adele is on the way to becoming a pivotal one herself. 21’s commercial success is a refreshing reminder of the consumer base’s thirst for something new, and they’ve found it in this wonderful and diverse album. By displaying her flexible songwriting style and considerable vocal might, Adele has accrued a following that will surely be eager to see what she does next.