Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Album Review: Adele - 21 (4.5/5)
Booming vocal acrobatics perfectly matched with her deep bluesy tone; British singer Adele definitely struck a soulful chord with her soulfully enchanting début 19; remaining a cohesive set while experimenting with '70s inspired soul and modern pop with an expressive rhapsodic twist, which earned the singer numerous Grammy nominations for the albums biggest hit “Chasing Pavements,” including Record of the Year.
What I liked most about 19 is that despite its sharp adult contemporary sound and big Aretha-trimmed vocals, it still didn't sound like it was reaching purposely for a systematic sophisticated outlet—therefore it makes sense that its sequel, 21, aims to push the boundaries a little further, as she appropriately states on the track “I'll Be Waiting” (“I was a child then, now I'm willing to learn”)—showcasing a maturer outlook on the blending of soul, old-fashioned pop toppled with a gutsy rock'n'roll overtone channelling that of American singer Wanda Jackson, recognized as the first female to capitalize on the predominately male-dominated rock'n'roll sound.
While the subtle tuneful guitar-fiddling arrangement of “Daydreamer” greeted listeners on 19—on here we're welcomed with the fiery, toe-tapping, guitar-penetrating, military-stomping production of “Rolling in the Deep” with its big, brassy, roaring chorus highlighting Adele's bawling vocal. I like how she simultaneously sheds some sensitivity on the “we could have had it all” parts before the last chorus. It sounds awesome—although not as instant as “Chasing Pavements,” which could have been the objective.
Adele tries a hand at some chilling throwback rock on “Rumour Has It” bringing in those Wanda Jackson influences; Beginning with some crashing drum-beats with some harmonic “oohs” over the top, soon the tambourines, biting guitar chords and hand-claps come into play—utilizing that '50s rock production. Half-way through the atmosphere takes a dramatic turn for the bridge; haunting piano keys and strings before we're back on track with the crashing drum-beats. I applaud the complex arrangement.
Jim Abbiss of Arctic Monkeys lends his production skills on “Turning Tables” a chilling piano-laced ballad, flourished with sharp orchestratic strings—re-calling the same haunt of Rihanna's “Unfaithful” but less radio-friendly, more lyrically compelling and better. Of course she sounds wonderful—demonstrating an excellent vocal performance. Next up another heart-on-the-sleeve ballad “Don't You Remember,” but it sounds more folky, beginning quite subtle, before the soaring drum, piano, guitar deemed production kick in for the chorus.
Next up is “Set Fire to the Rain,” which has been chosen to be the albums single. And why not? It's the albums most radio-friendly moment—big chorus, cold layered production—It's produced by Fraser T. Smith who also produced Tinchy Stryder's “Number 1.” Next Adele brings in some nice R&B influences on “He Won't Go,” with a cool three-count burst of piano chord style on the chorus. “Take it All,” is another fantastic piano-laced ballad—almost re-calling the sensitivity and vulnerability of “Make You Feel My Love,” it's very heart-felt; successfully highlighting a distinctive rawness in her vocal that opens another layer of depth to this beautifully-arranged melody-strung ballad.
Similar to some of the songs towards the beginning, “I'll Be Waiting” illustrates a love for matching prominent drum beats and sharp piano chords, capitalizing on that old-fashioned '70s reminiscent pop sound, however have sharp horns on here too and the chorus packs quite the punch too, with the help of Adele's bold vocal and the vivacious production. “One and Only” is another ballad—slightly bluesy, or maybe even trailing a bit on a Gospel sound—I can definitely here some organs behind its big, declamatory arrangement. It's the longest song on here—that's because it has the biggest climax—even bringing the choir for that big finish.
“Lovesong” is a pretty simple acoustic-guitar driven number about a lover representing home: “whenever I'm with you, you make me feel like I am home again.” It's quite restraint, both vocally and arrangement-wise; plodding softly with acoustic guitars, percussion and strings. Closing the album is “Someone Like You” another heart-felt piano-driven ballad about avoiding bitter feelings when two lovers part—It got a lot of praise from critics, however I think “Take it All” is the best ballad on the album.
19 was a good album, but 21 is a stunner. Musically, more compelling—more complex—more endearing, showcasing musical growth on the most sophisticated level and lyrical maturity however in the midst of it all not losing that slight touch of youth (although it is slightly ballad-heavy, which is fine) therefore still acts as an idealistic sequel to 19. It's seeming progressively common for the new breed of British female singers who landed big débuts in the 2000s— I'm talking about the likes of Natasha Bedingfeild, Kate Nash, Leona Lewis and Duffy—to tank with their follow-up, playing right into the dreaded sophomore slump syndrome. So it's nice to see someone who got it right and joins Lily Allen in the elite club of young female British singers to avoided the slump.
Best: Rolling in the Deep, Take it All, Set Fire to the Rain, Rumour Has It, Turning Tables, One and Only, He Won't Go.