Review: Adele - "21"
Just finishing listening to Adele for the very first time. Missed out on her debut, 19, and likely would have paid no mind to her new record, 21, as well, if I hadn't heard a snippet of it at Easy Street the other day. Then it grabbed me. Damned if the song I heard, "Take It All," wasn't a picture perfect nod to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. A slow, rolling piano anchored the gospel feel of the song, and Adele's voice, possessed with such rich depth, was impossible to ignore. Yes, Amy Winehouse, fantastic, sure, but this…this takes the small-but-growing "retro-soul" niche to a whole 'nutha level. The song that followed, "I'll Be Waiting," again channels Lady Soul, but this time the celebratory, Muscle-Shoals-driven R&B of much of her late '60s work.
At the other end of the spectrum is the opener, "Rolling In the Deep," which begins with a slow-burning build, Adele's confident vocals accompanied first by an acoustic guitar, then the thump-thump-thump of a bass drum, before finally breaking into a glorious chorus, which had me reaching for the platform shoes, so similar it was to epic disco anthems of the '70s (minus the cheesy rhythm patterns and cardboard production, mind you). "Rumour Has It" seems like a big flip of the bird to those who try to pigeonhole Adele into a retro-soul trap. This is how I would imagine the late, great Dusty Springfield would sound like if she could make a comeback record with Rick Rubin (who, incidentally, produced this cut). It's a full-on rhythmic stomper with a swampy Creedence-y backbone and a percussive drive on the lines of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk."
Unfortunately, there are a few misfires that follow, some schlocky sentimental ballads (best suited to be played on the Grammys, methinks) and an overly dramatic, string-laden moment of agony titled "Set Fire to the Rain." But that's it….things pick up with the sultry "He Won't Go" and she can't go wrong from there on out, even throwing in a Cure cover before it all ends with an emotional heartbreak song, "Someone Like You," in which Adele offers a stunning vocal performance.
21 is not likely to grow on you with repeated listenings - you'll either get it straightaway or you won't. Love it or not, it's almost impossible not to admit that Adele is an enormous talent. And, most importantly perhaps, she's only 22. Will she end up being one of the best singers of our time? If she can keep her nose clean, not lose her sense of adventure, and keep the r.e.s.p.e.c.t. for her influences, I have no doubt.