Album review: Adele — “21”

The Brit-pop songstress returns to with another case for why Britain’s state of pop is stronger than ours.

Sally Hedberg

 

Adele âÄî “21”

Release date: Feb 22 2011

XL Recordings

 

In addition to boasting a far-superior slang lexicon, recent years have proven that when it comes music, the Brits hold a much higher standard of mainstream pop.  IâÄôm in no way bashing the purpose that the Gagas and Katy Perrys serve. LetâÄôs get real, I enjoy B. Spears just as much as any drunk female in a karaoke bar. But when you pit the actual âÄúskillsâÄù of, say, Ke$ha against a neo-soul powerhouse like Adele, some hard-hitting truths about American standards become painfully salient. On the brink of her sophomore release, âÄú21,âÄù itâÄôs clear that Adele (along with a slew of other Brits) has been placed on this earth to rub AmericaâÄôs pop shortcomings in its face.

While AdeleâÄôs aptly titled debut, âÄú19,âÄù (she was 19 when she wrote it) was celebrated ’round the world, winning her Grammys and photo-spreads in Vanity Fair, it was clearly the product of a younginâÄô. Essentially a disenchanted-with-love girlâÄôs diary made public, the done-to-the-death clichés were overlooked because people were too busy reconnecting their dislocated jaws, a startling (though common) reaction to hearing an artist that could actually sing.  Her second release, âÄú21,âÄù (two years have passed.) reaches towards a new level of maturity, both in the structure of the music and in the self-assurance projected by someone whoâÄôs old enough to drink in an American bar.

The âÄúnewâÄù Adele is immediately thrust upon the listener in the opening single, âÄúRolling in the Deep.âÄù A thumping throwback to old-time blues, her carnivorous vocals assert her as a woman who is no longer a passive victim to the woes of romance. SheâÄôs singing about revenge and by the sounds of it, you wouldnâÄôt want to be the guy on the receiving end.

âÄúRumour Has ItâÄù continues along the vein of the gospel ballad, delivering yet another anger-filled, foot-stomping track. ItâÄôs a completely novel approach for her and calls to mind the soundtrack of âÄúOh Brother, Where Art Thou?âÄù Not what one would normally peg as characteristic Adele.

At times her forthrightness does still dissolve into doubt. The drowsy acoustic musings of  âÄúDonâÄôt You RememberâÄù show not only the complexity of emotions that the young artist is attempting to bridle, but also the subtle influence of American country music, a truth she has acknowledged in recent press coverage.

Adding still to the diversity of the record are tracks like âÄúIâÄôll Be Waiting,âÄù a funky, Dap King-esque hip-shaker and a surprisingly well-executed cover of The CureâÄôs âÄúLove Song.âÄù

With so many positives, itâÄôs hard to pinpoint what exactly keeps âÄú21âÄù caught in limbo between good and incredible.  It may have something to do with the fact that instead of capping the record at 10 or 11 really strong tracks, she unnecessarily drudges it to 15, filling the space with unimpressive, overdramatic mediocrity. It could also have something to do with the fact that now that her novelty has somewhat worn off, people are paying attention to her songwriting and finding it less than inspiring. The daring stylistic approaches and AdeleâÄôs newfound sense of assurance definitely seat this album one above her debut, but thatâÄôs stated with caution.  If MadonnaâÄôs taught the world anything itâÄôs that you can only reinvent yourself so many times. Because the caliber of AdeleâÄôs talent among female-pop artists is so high, next time around sheâÄôs going to have to do more than sing pretty to maintain her Brit-pop throne.

3 out of 4 stars