Adele – 21

August 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Posted in Adele | 4 Comments
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  1. Rolling In The Deep
  2. Rumour Has It
  3. Turning Tables
  4. Don’t You Remember
  5. Set Fire To The Rain
  6. He Won’t Go
  7. Take It All
  8. I’ll Be Waiting
  9. One And Only
  10. Lovesong
  11. Someone Like You
  12. If It Hadn’t Been For Love
  13. Hiding My Heart

In a business where sex sells and women are expected to be a certain size, Adele threw all those expectations out the window and single-handedly dominated 2011 with her sophomore record, 21. She made her mark with her first album, 19, which showcased her powerful voice to the world. While that album was successful, it pales in comparison to what she achieved with this album. Album sales have certainly declined in the new digital age but Adele revitalized the industry. I first heard of Adele through word of mouth on message boards but I had no desire to check her album out. Eventually, I came across her video for Rolling In The Deep and that was all it took to send me off to find her album. She doesn’t stray from the themes that she explored in her debut and 21 is completely focused on the aftermath of one of her relationships. However, what is different about this album is its maturity and sound. Everything is bolder, louder and so much more powerful. It is a reflection of who she has become as a person and her growth is very evident. The songs reveal her experience with the break-up, ranging from feelings of anger, regret, sadness and heartbreak. On 19 she had just begun carving her sound but on this album she perfects it.

Like I said in the introduction, Rolling In The Deep was all it took to get me hooked on her and it’s one hell of an opener. Blending blues and gospel, she creates a powerful revenge track laced with dark overtones. With the simple strumming of a guitar, the stage is set for Adele’s massive voice. “There’s a fire starting in my heart” she bellows to the simplistic but strong strumming, only to be joined by an explosive set of drums after the first stanza. While I loved her voice on her debut, it sounds richer and stronger now. The fury that spills from the melody and her vocals is captivating and deadly. It demands attention and you can’t help but cower to it. Once in the pre-chorus, you can feel the song building up and getting ready to erupt and it does in the chorus. “We could have had it all/rolling in the deep/you had my heart inside of your hand/and you played it/to the beat” she belts, accompanied by gospel backing vocals. It’s the highlight of the track and it’s a massive ear-worm. Her deep, emotional and vindictive tones are a breath of fresh air. Her voice is one of a kind and she shows it off perfectly. She channels gospel in the bridge as she sings to a clapping beat with wailing background vocals. The song constantly amazes and continues to fill up with power as it goes on. It’s really not surprising that this song blew up everywhere. It avoids all the clichés that riddle music today and it’s something that hasn’t been done in a very long time. It’s an amazing track and it still hasn’t lost its charm even if it’s been overplayed to death. Rumour Has It is a poppier tune that is percussion-driven. It still has that blues-y feel but its in-your-face as she addresses the gossip surrounding her love life. This track has a very contagious groove to it, thanks to the constant display of drums and her “oohs” which remain in the background for the majority of the song. Her powerhouse of a voice takes on a sassy tone as she sings to the old school beat. There isn’t much of a chorus because it’s just the title repeated a few times but it’s so addicting and funky. It’s hard not to become a victim of its beat. Things calm down in the bridge until the rapid piano comes in and evokes an unsettling atmosphere, leading back into the wicked drum melody.

Adele gets more intimate with the next track, Turning Tables, which finds her cooing to the delicate strokes of a sad piano. The tear-inducing melody is captivating and is complimented by her sorrowful vocals. “Close enough to start a war/all that I have is on the floor,” she sings and with lyrics like these it’s hard not to fall for this tear-jerker. This was a favourite of mine the first time I heard it. Its beauty resonates loud when the pre-chorus hits and the piano’s tone shifts as her voice heightens. The outcome is marvelous and it’s certainly a key part of the song, despite how short it is. For a brief second, the song becomes barren and the piano comes back stronger for the chorus, “so, I won’t let you close enough to hurt me/no, I won’t rescue you to just desert me/I can’t give you the heart you think you gave me/it’s time to say goodbye to turning tables.” It’s stunning and her voice tears through the instrumentation with pain. The chorus is better the second time around because of the strings and the spiraling nature of the bridge, emotionally and sonically, is amazing. Don’t You Remember leads her away from anger and brings her to a state of reflection with its calm and country acoustic set. The guitar embodies the feel of the countryside and it has a very welcoming and warm air to it. The minimal arrangement of the verses puts all the focus on her voice. She impresses with soothing and deep tones that convey a tremendous amount of pain, “when was the last time you thought of me?/or have you completely erased me from your memory?” I love the way her voice stretches and rises. It not only evokes a stronger sense of sadness but demonstrates what a great vocalist she is. Eventually, it starts to build up as it heads into the pre-chorus and finally climaxes in the chorus as the drums join the guitar riff which becomes a lot livelier. The hook is phenomenal as she lets her voice soar through the melody and it instantly pulls you into its depressing atmosphere. She recalls the good times in her relationship but it’s overshadowed by the heartbreak that she has endured. It comes together in a lovely but extremely sad way, “but don’t you remember?/don’t you remember?/the reason you loved me before/baby, please remember me once more.”

Set Fire To The Rain is the beast of the album. This is her best song and it’s a killer power ballad. Struggling with the idea of letting go, she delves into a dark concoction of piano, percussion and strings. The gorgeous piano and percussion melody start things off and her vocals are unbelievable, “I let it fall, my heart/and as it fell you rose to claim it.” It’s, without a doubt, her best vocal performance. She didn’t sing like this on her debut so it’s stunning to hear her put so much energy into her voice. The lyrics are as beautiful as the accompanying melody and as it enters the pre-chorus the strings come to life, building up for the chorus which is the most amazing hook on the entire album. “But I set fire to the rain/watched it pour as I touched your face/well, it burned while I cried/’cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name,” she belts with her monstrous voice to a melody that is both elegant and terrifying. The power she evokes is incredible and it’s so easy to fall head over heels for this song. The second chorus contains an extra stanza and it’s even better. I love the way her voice sounds when she cries “and I threw us into the flames.” Adele finishes it off with some crazy belting, something that she doesn’t do very often, and the final note she hits leaves me speechless every time. This is a complete gem, one of the standout songs from the previous year and cements her as one of the best singers to grace the music industry in the last few years. The album cools down with He Won’t Go, a chilled mid-tempo with a cool piano and drum beat that touches slightly on R&B territory. The relaxed tone of the verses is nice and her delivery is very laid-back. The shift in the chorus makes the song exciting thanks to the dramatic drums. Her voice takes on a soulful twang that suits the light melody. The bridge features a lovely harp and it’s the best part of the song. The final chorus gets an extra kick because of the strings which makes it catchier. It’s a good song but it’s not that memorable.

Take It All borrows from gospel and she wastes no time in getting started. “Didn’t I give it all/tried my best/gave you everything I had/everything and no less?” she sings as she moves between deep and high tones to an arrangement solely driven by a piano. She plays with her vocal range a lot on this ballad and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. The simple composition lets her raw vocals shine and they’re so beautiful. The pitchy, high notes that she occasionally hits are divine, especially in the bridge where she lets her voice go out of control. She’s so emotive in the chorus and the background choir that joins really adds to the gospel feel, “but go on/go on and take it/take it all with you/don’t look back/at this crumbling fool.” The album gets a mood lift with the optimistic I’ll Be Waiting. Opening with a cool drum beat, it moves to a groovy piano and brass beat that revitalizes the record. After all the vengeful and melancholic tracks, it’s a bit refreshing to have a song that’s more upbeat and bright. The jazzy feel is addicting and her cheery vocals are such a joy to hear. The vibrancy picks up again in the pre-chorus when the brass instruments crescendo and her voice rises with excitement, “but we had time against us/miles between us/the heavens cried/I know I left you speechless.” With an infectious pop-like chorus, it’s easy to be entranced by this song. The melody in the chorus is super catchy and even though the lyrical matter isn’t as happy as you would expect from such a bouncy beat, it’s still a delicious departure for her, “I’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready to love me again/I’ll put my hands up/I’ll do everything different/I’ll be better to you.” The harmonies that occur and her backing vocals are amazing and really add to the pleasant vibe. Things do slow down a bit in the bridge, where it gets a nice little dose of country swag and she manages to get in one fantastic belt. Her vocals at the end are top-notch and make a lasting impact. Overall, it’s a must-hear and it’s a shame that this is the only time you get to see this side of her.

One And Only brings the soul back with a soothing piano and an impeccable performance from the songstress. She uses her low register for this track and it’s so stunning. In the calm verses, her voice flutters to the piano licks. It’s her most soulful approach on the record and it’s one of my favourites. Unlike the other tracks, it’s not emotionally polarizing because it stands between a depressing sound and a positive one. Just as the chorus begins, the song’s gospel elements flood in. The organ adds a feel-good and romantic tone that goes with her gospel-tinged vocals perfectly, “I dare you to let me be your, your one and only/promise I’m worthy to hold in your arms/so come on and give me a chance.” I really like the bridge because of the vocal layers. The instrumental is very percussion and piano-driven but mellow and two sets of her vocals are layered over each other. Her subtle background belting is beautiful and it slowly moves to the forefront as the choir and strings join her which makes it even more amazing. I love how the strings are incorporated in the final chorus because it makes it sweeter. Next up is her cover of Lovesong by The Cure and it’s her most simplistic offering. Adele tones done her vocals, only allowing them to flow softly to the serene acoustic instrumentation of guitars and strings. There’s a lingering feel of darkness that invades the melody and it really makes the song for me. The song is highly structured. The verses are pretty much identical to each other and follow a specific pattern, “whenever I’m alone with you/you make me feel like I am home again/whenever I’m alone with you/you make me feel like I am whole again.” The song remains in the same tempo but does switch it up by rotating between strings and guitars. The chorus is beyond simple but it works and it’s so touching, “however far away I will always love you/however long I stay I will always love you/whatever words I say I will always love you.” It’s a very haunting ballad and despite being so minimal compared to the others, it’s one of the standout songs.

Someone Like You is the album’s biggest hit and the most popular song of 2011. There probably isn’t a single person alive who hasn’t heard this song. It’s been a long time since a ballad has blown up and loved by the masses like this but it’s wonderful to see a song of this caliber being appreciated. With a sweeping piano and vocals drenched in agony, this is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard in my life. This ballad has her dealing with heartbreak again but this is the moment that the album has built up to. The verses are calm and collected as she sings to the fact that her ex-lover has moved on and found someone else, “I heard that you’re settled down/that you found a girl and you’re married now/I heard that your dreams came true/guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.” Her singing picks up speed for the melodic pre-chorus and when she enters the chorus, that’s when she lets her emotions run loose. “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you/I wish nothing but the best for you too,” she cries and you can feel the anguish seep out of her. Her performance on this track is flawless and I love the way her voice falters and she loses composure when she sings “don’t forget me, I beg.” Lyrically and musically, it’s quite simple but in it’s simplicity it’s resonated with millions because of how relatable it is. It’s a marvelous song about heartbreak that evokes such an intense sense of pain. It’s a perfect ballad and one that will be remembered for a very long time. Adele covers another track and this time it’s If It Hadn’t Been For Love by the Steeldrivers. There’s a slight fading effect on her voice which makes it sound like a live recording and it adds to the overall mood. The old school country groove is delightful as are her soulful vocals, “never woulda hitch hiked to Birmingham/if it hadn’t been for love/never woulda caught the train to Louisiana/if it hadn’t been for love.” The music doesn’t change in the chorus but her voice moves to a higher register and her background vocals kick in. It’s not a favourite but I like its calm sound and her vocal runs at the end are pretty.

Continuing on with the covers is Hiding My Heart by Brandi Carlile. Introduced by a laid-back acoustic guitar, it’s very similar to the previous song in terms of the feel that the acoustics set up but it’s more emotional. The song isn’t as brilliant as her original material but it’s a very nice listen. It’s calm, relaxing and fits in with the thematic structure of the album, “but like everything I’ve ever known/you’ll disappear one day/so I’ll spend my whole life hiding my heart away.” Nothing much happens so it’s not too memorable. It’s mostly just enjoyable because of her vocals. The iTunes bonus, I Found A Boy, is a huge change for Adele and has her singing about finding new love with someone else. “But I found a boy who I love more/than I ever did you before/so stand beside the river I cried/and lay yourself down/look how you want me now that I don’t need you,” she asserts in the chorus which is a far cry from the rest of the album. This is another guitar-driven mid-tempo so it loses any lasting effect because it ends up sounding too similar and lackluster to the other songs. The bridge is the best part because the tempo rises a little as the guitars become livelier and she sings more spontaneously. The final chorus benefits from the change in tempo so it does redeem itself near the end.

Conclusion: 21 is going to go down in history as one of the best albums of this decade. This isn’t just a case of hype because the album deserves everything that it has achieved. It’s been such a long time since a singer like Adele has had a tremendous impact on the music industry. Through countless awards, breaking records and making history, Adele has created an album that brings the focus back on the music and not on the gimmicks or look of the artist. It’s refreshing to see a singer not care about their looks and only care about what really matters, the music. 21 is a vast improvement over her debut in every way possible. The songs are more powerful, more emotional and her voice is out of this world. She has so much control over her voice and I love how she’s allowed it to expand on this record. There are some glorious belts and notes that she hits that she didn’t do very often on her debut. The album, like her first, does become too familiar by the time you get to the end but that’s only including the bonus tracks which are mostly covers anyway. Adele dominated 2011 and rightly so. She deserves all the success she has received and will receive in the future. She’s already become an icon and it’s not a surprise that she took the world by storm because there isn’t anyone out there right now with a voice like hers, making music that is this good.

Recommended Tracks: Set Fire To The Rain, Someone Like You, Rolling In The Deep, Turning Tables, Lovesong, One And Only and I’ll Be Waiting

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