February 2011; Columbia Records
By Emily J Ramey
So, full disclosure: I love Adele. She’s beautiful and sharp and unbelievably talented. The girl won two Grammys for an album that she recorded while still a teenager. “Chasing Pavements” and her debut album 19 led Adele into international recognition as an authentic young voice expressing the bittersweet turbulence of adolescence awakening into adulthood.
But that was then. Sophomore release 21 speaks to new worlds opening at her feet, genre wise, shifting from R&B tinged with jazz to a full-blown amalgamation of blues, pop, and soul while remaining true to the British singer/songwriter’s signature style – that boldly ardent, wrenching voice of hers.
Thematically, 21 addresses a young woman’s mercurial ventures in love, darkly resonating and coolly evocative. The album permits tiny glimpses into the singer’s own heavy heart, forcing us to feel something – to relive ancient heartbreaks, to summon up past wrongs – pleading with us to wade back through our common woes. Adele writes from a more mature place and sings more passionately her own stories.
From the first moments, we hear might and confidence swelling in those lusty alto notes. Single “Rolling in the Deep” is a powerful and magnetic kick off to 21 that has Adele wailing about betrayal: “Think of me in the depths of your despair.” “Rumour Has It” maintains Adele’s robust new sound with sleek harmonies and swanky beats. The yearning, symphonic “Turning Tables” ebbs and surges like a midnight tide, silvery strings sweeping across an arcane melody.
The elegantly bleak imagery of “Set Fire to the Rain” allows the tune to billow and tumble, the music itself calling to mind a reckless downpour. “He Won’t Go” struts musically, recalling 70s-style R&B; Adele’s loose rhythm and casual vocals prove just how easy it is for the young singer/songwriter to croon her way through any heartbreak. “Take It All” blends jazzy piano with gospel flair, Adele’s vocals taking on a brisk quality, exuding chilly poise.
Brassy horns on “I’ll Be Waiting” stir in a dynamic beat that heats up like a fever. The richly dulcet “One and Only” is full-bodied and golden, a tune brimming with sweet, sweet soul. And Adele’s acoustic cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” soothes like a slow, velvety, almost sensual ballad.
Adele’s 21 is her musical and emotional pièce de résistance and therefore should not be taken lightly. Where 19 was a tentative step into the spotlight, 21 is a voluptuous, retro-inspired collection of “look-at-me!” moments. Do not pass this one up.