Friday, November 27, 2015

Music Review: 25

Album Review

Adele - 25

Release date: November 20, 2015
Label: XL Recordings

Summary: The powerful songstress from Tottenham is back in full force, and though her homage to moving on in late adulthood isn’t nearly as groundbreaking as it could have been, Adele’s undeniable vocal strength shines in every somber, soulful track.

Four years ago, Adele’s cathartic and solid album 21 erupted onto a totally unprepared music scene like a belting volcano, drowning her contemporaries in the sheer majesty of her voice and the strength of her plaintive lyricism.  Riding the Contemporary R&B wave, this blue-eyed soul singer swept the 2012 GRAMMY Awards, netting a record-tying 6 awards, including Artist of the Year.  However, instead of following-up immediately on her phenomenal success, Adele took a three-year hiatus from the music biz, breaking only to compose the Academy Award-winning “Skyfall” for the eponymous 2012 James Bond film.  The drought finally ended with the release of the breathtaking “Hello” in late October.  The reaction was overwhelming, with the song practically lionized by the music industry as the official music video racked up over 400,000,000 views on YouTube in less than a month.  So with all this outpouring of praise and anticipation, does the final product live up to the hype surrounding it?  Well, yes and no: yes, in that the vocals and sincerity are as superb as one would expect from Adele, but it often sounds indistinguishable from previous efforts, the promise of cap-stoning her musical Bildungsroman never quite materializing in most of the tracks.

The lead single “Hello,” of course, needs not introduction, setting the tone of the album and ultimately standing out as its most powerful song.  This classic ballad drips with regret over a failed relationship, appearing to all the world as the mature follow up to her signature “Somebody Like You.”  But beyond its poignant message is Adele’s commanding vocal range, stretching across multiple cords, all in tune with the piano’s melodic rise and fall.  “Hello” is that rare song with the power to carry an entire album on its own, and if everything else in 25 had been sub-par, it would be worth getting the album just to hear this searching ode in its full, uninterrupted glory.

Still, while the musicianship on the album is a testament to Adele’s continuing maturity as an artist, its content still sounds like more of the same.  Tracks like “Send My Love,” with its upbeat, almost popish rhythms, and the somber, reflective “When We Were Young” hit all of the right notes - and heartstrings - but will undoubtedly feel very familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity of her corpus.  This isn't a bad thing, mind you, as Adele’s stratospheric vocals are nearly immune to anything mediocre.  But with the glimmer of lyrical maturity hinted in “Hello,” I’d hoped that the British songwriter would show a bit more inventiveness, especially with an array of talent as diverse as Bruno Mars, Paul Epworth, and Danger Mouse all contributing to the production.  “A Million Years Ago” is probably the most original track on the record - a calm, Spanish guitar lamentation, punctuated by Adele’s piercing voice at certain emotional peaks, that reminisces on the price of fame and its effect on those who knew her.  Otherwise, 25 is a retread over the same territory forged by 21, and while a few songs like "River Lea" and "Water Under the Bridge" stand out, respectively, for their striking imagery and retro 80s tempo, there's nothing fundamentally adventurous here, and only the most attentive fans will spot the subtle differences between the two albums.

That shouldn’t stop anyone from giving 25 their full attention, though.  Adele is without doubt a once-in-a-generation talent, and while those looking for the much-vaulted maturity this album promised may leave disappointed, fans of this modern siren’s soulful wails of lost love will definitely find reasons to celebrate.

Grade: A-

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