Adele – 25: Consistent, but not progressive

Adele 25IT STARTED with one word on a TV advert. Suddenly, the internet lost its shit. She was back; the singer who sold one hundred billion, trillion, bagillion, records all over the world. Yes, Adele was back on the scene. Then it all came flooding in; release dates, an album cover, a lead single, ‘Hello’, with the hype steadily building up and up. Finally, the release date came, and while record store employees all over the country steadily controlled the urge to rip their ears off, us amateur music journalists went out and bought the record, because Adele didn’t stream it. The horror.

So here it is, 25.

While I personally wasn’t a fan of 21, it sure had some great tunes on it. Songs like ‘Rolling in the Deep’, ‘Rumour Has It’ and ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ all have some really enjoyable instrumentals, while Adele’s vocals are, of course, excellent. They also had these interesting vocal harmonies that really gave the songs character. Alas, much of the rest of the album felt a lot like piano based filler, and, while Adele’s vocals remained excellent, the music gradually became less exciting.

Unfortunately it’s a similar situation on 25. The trend of piano based ballad like songs is repeated until it almost becomes formulaic. To listen to them individually can be quite pleasant, notably on the track ‘All I Ask’, but in the run of the album, it’s a bit of a bore. There are only so many slow, stripped back songs the brain can handle, and the meaningfulness of these songs is lost in an attempt to cram as many as possible on to the record. The power of ‘When We Were Young’ (which contains some of the cheesiest lyrics on the album), ‘Remedy’ and to a certain extent ‘Water Under the Bridge’ is overshadowed by their similarities to the far superior ‘I Miss You’. It’s a waste.

Thankfully, it’s not all like that. The run of the first three tracks, ‘Hello’, ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ and ‘I Miss You’ are some of the best on the album. While ‘Hello’ had originally underwhelmed me, on second listens the orchestration is really beautiful, with a (dare I say it) catchy hook that rivals that of some of the tracks off 21. ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ is a change of pace for Adele, with some decent percussion work, interesting pop guitar and those trademark harmonies. It’s clearly the best song on the album, and perhaps echoes her label, XL, and their tendencies to put out generally more alternative music. Then we have ‘I Miss You’, with its ghostly opening vocals, pounding drums beats and creepy backing vocals. ‘River Lea’ should also be given a shout out, thanks in part to Danger Mouse’s brilliant production and manipulation of Adele’s vocal work.

Speaking of vocals, Adele sounds excellent throughout the entire album. It’s difficult to particularly criticise her vocal abilities, which range from classic belters to tender, humble, quieter numbers. One of the best performances come in the penultimate track ‘All I Ask’, which has one of the better vocal melodies, and one that has the spotlight thrown upon it. While Adele’s lyrics aren’t exactly colourful or exotic, they have moments where they hit a raw point of Adele describing her relationships and/or emotions. Sure, it’s been done before, but for the most part Adele avoids cheesy stereotypes and actually puts down some meaningful lyrics. ‘I Miss You’ and ‘Hello’ are some passionate vocal performances and some of the most intriguing on the record, especially the former, which tempers Adele’s vocals with a tinge of roughness.

The second half of the album really underwhelms more than the first. As previously mentioned, ‘River Lea’ and ‘All I Ask’ are enjoyable songs, but aside from that, it falls flat. ‘Love In The Dark’ and ‘Million Years Ago’ are both equally bland, with that piano ballad formula making a return appearance. Adele’s vocals aren’t particularly diverse, however still retain that power she’s had for the rest of the album. As a result, they bring down ‘All I Ask’, due to the sheer heaviness of emotion they contain. Again, these songs work far better by themselves than in an album setting. Closer ‘Sweetest Devotion’ has some redeeming qualities; it feels like a good closer for this record, and leaves 25 on a slightly more upbeat note, certainly more than 21 did. However, it doesn’t quite reach the bar set by some of the better songs on the album.

But 25 really missed the mark when it comes to expanding Adele’s musical horizons. With an album like 21 to fall back on, Adele could have produced a record comprising of spoken word Dadaist poetry over heavy banjo and it would have still shot to the top of the Billboard 100 and stayed there for three weeks. With producers such as Ariel Rechtshaid and Danger Mouse on board, the musical boundaries of 25 could have been so much broader, perhaps even into the more experimental side of pop music. Instead, 25 plays its safe, sticking to what Adele knows best, and at the very least pleasing her audience. There are glimpses of change though, and those tracks are easily the best on the record; perhaps her and Paul Epworth will eventually take the hint and move onto something new. But for now we have 25; not a perfect album, but with hints of glory, enough to keep Adele in her top spot at least.

Hey, here’s to 29.

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