Let’s not beat around the bush
– Adele’s 25 is the most important album release of the decade. Quite frankly, Adele could have gotten away with putting out the tracks she scrapped no matter how bad she claims they were; the pre-orders alone would make for a success even if the album never sold another copy. She’s one of very few artists able to chart a ballad in today’s music climate, a sales prodigy, and even though the album’s not as heavily engineered for radio consumption as it could have been – many of the tracks push five whole minutes, which is increasingly unheard of – listening to 25 is often significantly rewarding.
For example, nobody denies the triumph that is Adele’s voice. If we knew
only one thing about the follow-up to 21 in the four years it took to make, it was that the voice at its helm would be incontestable. Her voice here still merits consideration however, as it has developed noticeably since the days of 19, and even cordially since the release of 21, which was evident the moment ‘Hello’ was revealed – a stroke of genius to build tension and hype that no doubt contributed to the maximisation of sales figures – it’s ripened, and just as powerful. Standout track ‘When We Were Young’ brilliantly showcases her voice with modesty, which makes her executive vocal jump of two octaves all the more potent. It is a blessing that the biggest artist in the world right now is this unmistakably talented.
Behind the album is a plethora of mastermind pop songwriters, and nine producers across its 11 tracks: Max Martin, Ariel Rechtshaid and Danger Mouse among them. It is a surprise, then, that the work’s anticipated blue-eyed gospel iced with piano
is so cohesive (and on ‘Love In The Dark’, some welcome instrumental variation à la Florence + The Machine). While what you hear may make you long for the impactful aggression of 21 (the vigour of ‘Rolling In The Deep’ and ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ is all but missing), as usual with Adele’s output, it feels as if you’ve known these songs forever. Although when written down, a fair amount of the album’s lyrical content can seem rather daft (I feel like my life is flashing by/and all I can do is watch and cry), Adele’s performance reliably boosts them to a quality certainly worth hearing.
The worst cuts here
unfortunately border on terrible, which is a level that just isn’t present on 21. The first, ‘Remedy’, is an almost meritless piano ballad, as soppy as you may expect from the only Ryan Tedder co-write on the album. The second, ‘All I Ask’, co-penned by Bruno Mars, jars with its sickeningly sweet key change for the final chorus, presenting the singular moment across Adele’s entire discography where her voice fails to be a pleasure to listen to. One can only wish he’d kept that one for himself.
This is not a quietly revolutionary album that you might expect from the likes of Joni Mitchell, nor is it the inspired, singular reflection of a major life change as this year’s Vulnicura was for Björk. That Adele has become increasingly less present since 19. Neither is it as grand, personal or ambitious as reported inspiration Ray Of Light by Madonna. 25 is calculable, yet inevitably pleasing, an often delicate and positively virtuous follow up to the biggest album of the current generation.