If you have a television or even very occasional access to the internet, you are probably aware that Adele released a new album on Nov. 20. Her timing makes perfect sense because people love Adele and people love the holidays. Adele may be the one and only thing your entire extended family can agree on and is best enjoyed next to a fireplace with copious emotion. Minor Black Friday casualties as people fight over the last copy of her CD at Target stores, the only place you can get the deluxe version, would come as no surprise at all.
Adele is as beautiful and deep as the soulful ballads which made her famous. What helps to distinguish Adele is that she is so universally beloved. In another time-out-of-joint example, “25” is projected to break first-week CD sales records set by NSync’s “No Strings Attached” in 2000 (you know, one of the last years you still had something to play CDs in).
Before the numbing amount of radio plays Adele is about to receive in the next six months, before the genius of a line like “my heart is a valley, it’s so shallow and manmade” has lost its emotional luster, let’s wallow together in the sheer wonderfulness that is this new album.
Purists and “21” diehards will be frustrated the album isn’t all understated production, sweeping melodies and piano-backed heartbreak. Surely it’s all there on tracks like “When We Were Young” and “Remedy” but some of “19’s” buoyancy resurfaces, albeit evolved and refined, on songs like “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).”
Producers and writers outnumber songs on this album almost two to one. On just 11 songs Adele brought in the same number of producers, and it shows. In terms of album cohesion, song order could not matter less; there doesn’t seem to be a consistent theme, and that is just fine. “25” is more a collection than an album to be played through from top to bottom.
Adele gives herself incredible vocal freedom that is unlike anything we’ve heard from “19,” “21,” or the live sessions. This is beautifully displayed in the cracking wails of “Sweetest Devotion” and “I Miss You,” and it is the album’s greatest strength — Adele’s voice can still surprise us after the technical perfection of past hits.
Who knows what we were expecting of “25”? Maybe more perfect piano ballads, but certainly not the incredibly radio-friendly “Water Under the Bridge” and almost Taylor Swift-ish “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” This peppiness is less a departure from what makes Adele, Adele, like the pacemaking rhythm guitar of “19” and the heart-stopping lyricism of “21.” The signatures are all there, but so are full backing choirs and clap tracks. If anything, this production doesn’t bury Adele’s artistry but makes her even more accessible — if that is even possible — to audiences younger and more inclined to genres like folk and country.
“Hello” is a deceptive first single: it is Adele doing what she does best (e.g. slowly breaking our hearts over sparse piano), but it is not representative of the rest of “25.” The likes of “Hello” are what we know her for, but It’s the calculated experimentation of “River Lea’s” vocal harmonies, “Sweetest Devotion’s” bursting joy and “Water Under the Bridge’s” cinematic expansiveness that we will come to love her for.