As anyone with most anything resembling a pulse has heard about these days, Adele Adkins (or just Adele for short) has a new album on the way. It’s called 25, drops worldwide tomorrow, and is her 3rd numbered LP since 2011’s 21 and 2008’s 19. And while that may seem like a limited stat sheet on paper, Adele has been a titanic figure in music that makes the concept of a smash hit pale by comparison.
She’s racked up awards both here and at home in Britain, has spent record-breaking amounts of time on the Billboard charts, and has been ranked again and again as one of the greatest female vocalists in all of music. So I suppose it goes without saying that with these thoughts in mind, there’s been a certain level of expectation surrounding the imminent release of 25. Even to the point that the very music industry itself seems propped up by the notion of sending out about 3.6 million units that are going to hit the sales chart like wildfire.
So… you know, no pressure or anything.
From my perspective, I worry about saddling any album with that kind of high bar before it’s even had a chance to be widely heard. Firstly because there’s easily a chance that it could fail to be that Golden Goose to fans and retailers, and secondly because it just seems highly presumptuous to label anything as the “best of it’s decade” (which I’ve already heard once). Looking back on noteworthy albums from musical history, it often takes several decades before we look back on that art as the proper masterpiece that it ultimately turned out to be. Point being, so much of everything we create deserves that time to grow it’s own wings before we fly it too close to the sun.
And as it is, 25 doesn’t need the help. Four years down the line a lot may have changed in Adele’s world, but the cornerstones of what’s made her a superstar have only gotten stronger with the lacings of maturity and time. The power of heartbreak and nostalgia are still as present as ever, but more within a photo’s frame and less directly inside what drives the current state of her songwriting. She’s had a child and gotten to a happier place in her life since 2011, so while the terrain may have changed and there isn’t exactly a “Chasing Pavement” or “Someone Like You” on this record… 25 still doesn’t lack for it’s fair share of soulfully gripping potency.
Despite becoming meme-worthy on the internet, “Hello” is the type of soaring, brood-y balladry that Adele’s made into an art form, while “River Lea” is vulnerable introspection made slinky gospel, “All I Ask” is a perfectly pleading piano bar serenade, “Million Years Ago” is stripped down Parisian-esque sentiment, and “When We Were Young” might just be the brightest and most tightly constructed gem on the entire record. It’s a song that’s pure sepia; flipping through dog-eared scrapbooks as easily as brilliant hooks on the way to a swan-like swoop of vocal triumph. It’s a theme that emerges time and time again to be “just like a movie” on 25 that never stoops to predictability or becoming cookie cutter.
Instead, whether it’s with creations as familiar as the bluesy soul that first brought her to prominence or as far off as the type of vividly swaying pop that made Taylor Swift’s 1989 such a success, Adele’s 25 is one of the greater examples of an artist delivering on expectation with some of the strongest and most consistently gorgeous material of her career. And that’s certainly no easy task given the high marks set by 19 and 21, but she accomplishes it with a level of control and ease that’s practically astonishing.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by now, but it’s hard not to be when you witness someone who’s not even at their artistic peak yet continue to deliver such powerhouse precision. That doesn’t come along often per generation, and while I’m still not going to anoint 25 as one of the best of the decade, I will sit back and enjoy it as one of the best of 2015.
“Hello, it’s me”. It certainly is Adele, and after four years…. what a way to make a statement.
Notable songs: “When We Were Young”, “All I Ask”, “Million Years Ago”