Well, it’s been four long years but Adele has made her long-anticipated return, with the predictably-titled 25. With her last album going 16x(!) platinum and spawning a plethora of singles including the genre-shaking ‘Rolling in the Deep’, can the Skyfall singer replicate the success of her previous work?
Opening track ‘Hello’ is one you should be familiar with. It is already wandering dangerously close to the overplayed territory her previous singles all inevitably found themselves in, getting to number 1 in both the UK and USA. It definitely isn’t a bad song – it’s pretty much just classic Adele. Normally I’d be scrutinising music’s Jesus for not living up to the critical praise she’s constantly showered with by showing a decent amount of musical development, but it’s been nearly four years since her last release – it would be very questionable from a marketing standpoint to alienate her sizable fan base with the unknown.
Having said that, other than the fact that it’s Adele, there isn’t a huge amount about this song that’s that special.
Moving on from radio singles, the rest of the album is difficult to pinpoint. Following ‘Hello’ is the almost Sheeran-esque ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’. The verses do sound like they could be a part of any acoustic guitarist’s album, which is quite new for Adele, but the chorus just feels quite out of place. It’s weirdly upbeat and whimsical but completely misses the tone set by the preceding music, which is stripped back and slightly more downbeat than it should be.
‘I Miss You’ is slightly more consistent – pounding drums and haunting vocals go nicely in the verses whilst the chorus has some great raw-sounding vocals and a quite-catchy tune. The backing vocals are almost falsetto in how high they are compared to Adele’s voice – they sound like a sample rather than a sung recording.
Parts of this album do call back to Adele’s previous work. ‘Remedy’ brings piano super-ballad ‘Someone Like You’ to mind, and unfortunately suffers because of the comparison. That’s not to say it’s bad – it isn’t – it just isn’t as good as some of her older songs. ‘Water Under the Bridge’ has glimpses of the swagger that ‘Rolling in the Deep’ had, although it is noticeably much less blunt about showing it off.
This review might seem to be leaning more to the negative side, but the album really isn’t bad at all. I just expected more. This was always going to happen with the amount of hype surrounding Adele; it was very unlikely she’d live up to all the hype.
Having said that, when she hits her stride on 25, she really hits it. ‘River Lea’ is a song that works on all levels – it is lyrically simple, the chorus is catchy but not annoyingly so, and the production gives it an ethereal vibe that really goes with the lyrics and vocals. ‘When We Were Young’ is a stereotypical great Adele song: perfect for radio play whilst still oozing with soul.
‘Million Years Ago’ is quite interesting. An acoustic guitar provides the musical background for a simple but relatable retrospective soliloquy – and an effective one at that. ‘All I Ask’ is probably the second best song on the album; it’s something that only Adele could have done – and would have been right at home on 21.
The main problem with this album is the mix of influences that don’t quite mesh, both with each other and with Adele’s abilities. She has to accept that her music doesn’t really have a defined genre anymore – it falls somewhere between soul, r&b, and now radio-pop. It’s a volatile dynamic, which is why the misses on this album miss quite terribly. But the hits still hit when they need to, like album closer ‘Sweetest Devotion’, which uses a full band line-up to make what is a fantastic and triumphant song, and easily the best on the record.