- Mon, 2011-01-24 15:51
When Adele announced herself to the world back in 2007 with her incredible single Hometown Glory, few were in any doubt that a significant new talent had arrived on the scene. Her deeply powerful and emotionally expressive vocals demanded undivided attention, and when presented in the context of her soul-inspired debut album 19 that’s exactly what she received, not to mention a raft of award nominations. Indeed, such was the impact that Adele made when she first arrived in our lives that it’s hard to imagine how she might replicate that excitement the second time around. Hard, that is, until you hear 21, which doesn’t just live up to 19; it blows it out of the water.
Current single Rolling In The Deep opens the album with an explosion of soul swagger. Drums pound, the piano thunders and backing singers ooze attitude as Adele’s inimitable vocals soar, reproaching the man foolish enough to throw her love away. From its stripped-back beginning through the crackling potency of its breakdown to its giant-sounding climax, Rolling In The Deep embodies the entire dynamic scope of 19 in under four minutes. We’re given no time to collect ourselves, though, as the blistering blues stomp of Rumour Has It charges towards us with tight choral harmonies and snarling guitar, both of which drop away in a flurry of handclaps as Adele’s mood suddenly drops, cushioned by a sombre combination of strings and piano that gradually lift her back towards a fiery finale.
After such an unexpectedly robust opening salvo, Turning Tables soothes us and steers us back into more familiar territory. Similar in sound to Hometown Glory, its love-weary lyrics help it to pack a greater punch. It’s a glimpse of Adele as she was on 19, and it helps us to join the dots between that album and this; with heartbreak as her muse the remarkable quality of her voice is heightened by the depth of her emotion, an effect that seeps out into the music itself so that every beat and every note seems heavy with intent.
So too it is on Don’t You Remember, a country-infused ballad whose slick exterior doesn’t quite hide the underlying bruises, or the phenomenally powerful Set Fire To The Rain, which culminates in an orchestra of blustering strings. He Won’t Go is a shuffling soul jam in a minor key, while Take It All’s plaintive piano-and-vocal is punctuated by the cries of a gospel choir. The spirit of Ray Charles permeates the full-bodied groove of I’ll Be Waiting, while the shimmering Hammond organ of One And Only echoes Al Green at his slow-dancing best. A cover of The Cure’s Lovesong follows, and rendered as a gentle bossa nova swathed in tender strings it takes on a forlorn sadness born of unrequited devotion.
For the album’s finale, Someone Like You, Adele turns her back on the delicate and detailed instrumentation that has characterised the album thus far like a soldier laying down her arms, and accompanied by nothing but a simple piano part she sings “I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited, but I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it; I had hoped you’d see my face and I had hoped you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over…never mind, I’ll find someone like you…” Finally reconciled with the lost love with which she has been struggling throughout 21, all that’s left is one last blast of raw, unadorned emotion.
The song brings a stunning journey to its close. On 19, Adele’s unique voice stole the show; her modern soul-stylings were an appropriate setting, but had someone less arresting fronted them, their impact would have been largely diminished. On 21 her vocals are not only even more powerful than before, but this time their power is mirrored in that of the music, a fact that sees the songs come alive to stunning effect. A magnificent achievement.