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Album Review: Adele's 21
Like most people, I wasn't keenly aware of Adele's presence until her appearance on SNL back in 2008. Millions of Americans were watching that night, not because of Adele but because Sarah Palin was supposed to appear. But, like most viewers that night, I was enraptured by the unknown musical guest's captivating sound. After that, I bought her second single- "Chasing Pavements" and listened to it several dozen times until I bought her debut album.
Now, three years later she's come out with her sophomore effort- 21. If anything, her first album was a heartfelt exploration of what contemporary soul could be. 21 is the full realization of that idea; it's 21st century retro-soul and it's beautifully mature with a dash of endearing naïveté.
The leadoff track "Rolling in the Deep" is also the album's first single. It's a haunting revenge ballad chock full of emotion and depth. The opening verse lays the album's darkness out in plain sight.
Finally, I can see you crystal clear;
Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your ship bare;
See how I leave, with every piece of you;
Don’t underestimate the things that I will do.
From the very start, we're aware of a very different journey here. And a journey it is, as the album plays out with an unmistakeably narrative tone. It's a story of maturation, both personally and musically. The second track, "Rumor Has It" plays out the soulful angst that's so omnipresent throughout the album.
She made your heart melt;
But you're cold to the core;
Now rumour has it she ain't got your love anymore.
Adele explores a different sound on "Don't You Remember" where she embraces a wholly folksy sound, one that I wouldn't expect to work. However, it evolves throughout the track and takes on an alternative sound that continues onto the next track, "Set Fire to the Rain" which is one of the best songs on 21. The crescendo before the chorus conjures up such pathos that it's impossible to disregard the emotion that so deeply penetrates the music here.
However, there is a certain blandness to the music behind Adele's gorgeous vocals which is where the album's shortcomings are highlighted. While the production of this album outshines her previous work, it still lacks the musical complexity necessary for honor roll inclusion.
Where 19 was constrained and subdued to a fault, 21 is focused and heartfelt. It's a substantial stepforward for Adele and, despite its clear faults, is an album that deserves more than just a purchase- it deserves to be listened to, pined with, and understood.