British songstress Adele has been posting record shattering numbers since she showed the world exactly just how to make a comeback with Hello her first single since the Bond theme for Skyfall in 2012. Her second studio album 21 was a music industry outlier, a record that managed to shift about 30 million copies in an era where artistes consider themselves lucky to do one million in album sales. With 25, Adele is again showing that such numbers are indeed possible even when the record business is struggling with itself.
25, named for the age she was at the time of recording (she’s 27 now and a mother of one) is in many ways typical of the Adele that showed up on 19 and 21. The record houses big, broad ballads, delivered with that sharp, sad, powerful voice that has come to mean something to millions of people the world over.
21 was such a seminal record because into its burning songs of righteous indignation, Adele poured all of her rage, bitterness and every emotion in between following a bitter break up. 25 isn’t quite 21 but it serves as a worthy companion and follow up. Fans may have been put out mildly if Adele had made a 360 turnaround and cast herself as the happy go lucky diva singing splashy songs of love and contentment. But life is lived in stages and it is only fair that with its themes of loneliness, uncertainty and forgiveness, 25 is the closest Adele has come to being happy on a record since 21’s Someone like you.
The ambitious lead single Hello opens with a strategically placed Hello/it’s me that serves to both cheekily reintroduce her to her audience as well as reconnect with an old flame. Backed by a piano, Adele delivers some of her most personal and relatable lyrics that certainly speak to everyone regardless of race, religion or colour. Anyone who has ever been through a break up could relate instantly with the song’s wistful nostalgia.
And so it is that 25 is essentially a record dealing with moving on. Of course moving on is such a complicated process that involves so many conflicting emotions depending on the particular stage. Moving on could mean exhuming the ghosts of a not quite buried relationship as she does in Hello, or it could mean the Love in the dark message of loving someone but understanding they can never be right for you. It could also mean a smooth, sassy kiss off to a loved one with the instantly iconic lines Send my love (to your new lover).
Adele has cornered the market on dealing with relationships and 25 is essentially a soul baring contemplation on the aftermath of something epic. In an interview with the New York Times, she observed that spending a lot of time helping her new born make sense of the world shrinks one’s vocabulary considerably. It may therefore not be too much of a stretch to accept that as the root of the change in song writing pattern on 25. Even though 21 was wearing its rage proudly, it had lyrics that were a bit mysterious and metaphorical. 25 is an all-out pure narration of events. The way they were.
Barbra Streisand’s The Way we were is an obvious influence on the retro When we were young, a scorching torch song; from the title down to the delivery and themes of longing and nostalgia for times gone by. Million years ago is one of the album’s most intimate cuts. Adele makes use of her voice in ways she never even bothered to on 21 and belts out notes that highlight potently her raw emotions.
Such a throwback record filled with ballads, show tunes and epic torch songs, the only concession Adele makes to the pop charts is on the Max Martins produced Send my love. The song opens with the kick and drum snares easily identified on Taylor Swift’s I knew you were trouble but the moment Adele’s voice comes on, it is obvious she is not playing second fiddle to a hit making producer. She is the control throughout the song and by the end, she has somehow made it an Adele song produced by Max Martins instead of a Max Martin produced song sung by Adele.
The emotions on 25 are poignant but are saved from the brink of depressing. The power of the music easily lifts even the moods of the most tortured of souls even as the lyrics tell a more troubling story. The album closer Sweetest devotion which Adele records as an ode to her son Angelo feels out of place with its unoriginal title and promises of uncompromising maternal love. It feels too happy to exist side by side with all 10 tortured songs that have come before.
25 isn’t the blistering, adventurous record that 21 was. Adele is obviously in a different place and she lets it show. However she delivers another tour de force of emotions in just 11 powerful songs.
Our music stars can at least learn something from that.
- Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)