If it were not for an established tradition of naming her albums after the age at which she wrote them, one could be forgiven for thinking 25 () stood for the amount of people who don’t own one of them, such is British singer Adele’s ubiquity following her multi-million selling 19 and 21. If on her last record she spent the majority of the time hitting out at a former lover, her latest comes of age and even revokes some of the previous scorn.
Armed with A-list producers, 25 by and large sticks with the stellar soul styling of Adele’s previous work, but with her nicotine-nurtured voice serving the material so magnificently, it would be hard to accuse her of playing it safe.
The husky poise of “Hello” demonstrates her keen facility, easily gliding from powerful shouting to more subtle, conversational phrasing. Much like Dusty Springfield, when Adele does go full-pelt, the strain of it all makes sure you believe every last word if nothing else. If the lung-bursting chorus is a tad melodramatic, thankfully her lustrous voice is up to the challenge of bringing subtleties to the fore, not least during the soft verses. Adele finds emotional scope in places truly off limits to lesser vocalists, singing with attention, caution and lyrical intelligence. Extolling thunderous regret, it remains as welcoming as its title would suggest.
The neck-snapping teen-pop tempo found on “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” is an unexpected delight. Adele lets her styled-to-perfection hair down and ecstatically betrays the notion that her albums are a bottomless supply of heartache. The playful teen-pop influence can perhaps be credited to producer Max Martin (Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Linda Sundblad) but the infectious frivolity is well-balanced, with the singer’s soulful authority maintaining sole focus, and the call and response backing vocals adding sophistication and sizzle.
Given their chemistry on 21, it’s no surprise that the gritty groove of “I Miss You” reunites the singer with producer Paul Epworth. Each beat flickers with atmosphere, and the singer’s lustrous sensuality is in no short supply. Dense rhythms and alluring jazz accents abound. They have created rapture.
In what is surely destined to be the soundtrack of the next year, “When We Were Young” doesn’t strive to be a universal anthem — its lyrics are so specific that it is impossible not to hold on to them dearly. If one track encapsulates her immense appeal it would be this one.
“Remedy” is the album’s standard practice piano ballad, but special attention must be turned to “Water Under the Bridge.” Laying it down soulful and simple, the mixture of funk and emotional frisson is an elixir for the ears. Exploiting every nuance of her voice beautifully and effortlessly, the chorus is one of Adele’s highest price tags.
Fair rather than great, “River Lea” has a satisfying blues-gospel feel, but lacks the foxy jubilation one might expect in such a setting. Featuring an exquisite orchestra, “Love in the Dark” stylistically matches the previous work of its co-writer Samuel Dixon (Sia, Christina Aguilera), but her expressive and powerful singing tends to overpower.
If the Dusty comparisons won’t go away, sounding like Miss Springfield’s haunting “If You Go Away” is a spooky coincidence on “Million Years Ago.” Adele’s husky soar blends perfectly with the stripped back arrangements. Co-written by Bruno Mars, “All I Ask” is a pleasantly delicate exercise in tortured soul balladry, but won’t be remembered as either’s finest.
Closing the album, the seductive “Sweetest Devotion” showcases both Adele and producer Epworth in fine form indeed. Testifying in elegant acoustics, the singer’s drawn-out vocals are soul-searing. With such a winning finale, Adele fans will now face the hard task of deciding just what track to go back to again first.
What makes 25 a great album will not be the hits it contains, but the variety of the material showcasing Adele’s rich and unmistakably loud voice. With her signature meld of retro rhythm and blues and soul influences all in place, Adele figures one more entry into an elite group of contemporary classic albums.
While matching the same dizzying passion as the driving “Rolling in the Deep” may be off limits this time, the symphonic adult contemporary of tracks like the reflective “Hello,” the swooning “Sweetest Devotion” and soul-speckled “I Miss You” has arguably propelled Adele just as high. Out-singing, outclassing and out-selling her peers, once again Adele is full of brass, soulful stress and epic heartbreak. Plus she has great hair.
Adele’s 25 is available now through digital download and at Amazon.com.
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