One would have to be living in an unknown galaxy far far away to be unaware of the media hype surrounding the release of Adele’s third album – “25” – released on 20th November 2015 on Columbia Records. The album release has been widely-anticipated due to the fact that her previous album, “21”, released in 2011 has sold 30 million copies worldwide, earned the singer numerous awards in 2012, including a record-tying six Grammy Awards and three American Music Awards and it’s the UK’s fourth best-selling LP EVER.
In 2013, she received an Academy award, a Grammy Award and a Golden Globe award for Best Original Song for “Skyfall” which she wrote and composed for the James Bond film of the same name. And just as interestingly, that in an era where people buying records is on the decline, her record company have shipped 3.6 million physical copies of “25” in anticipation of its release to retailers. Such is their reliance on this ordinary Tottenham –hailed girl with an extraordinary voice. So, it seems a bit superfluous to review an album that is already going to do very well commercially regardless of what anyone says.
Does it live up to the greatness of “21”, the album that saw Adele broken-hearted and hurt after a failed relationship? In the main, it does. “25” reveals a reflective, pondering Adele (currently aged 27). Certainly a lot has happened in the last three years, she has had incredible fame and success, settled down with someone else, (her own “Someone Like You”) and become a mother. But none of that provides much heart-wrenching material with themes such as loss and regret so she has stuck to the formula of her predecessor album and does what she does best. Roof-Rattling ballads. On paper the album sounds promising as she has taken on a number of contemporary well-known names either co-writing or producing, such as Bruno Mars, Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Danger Mouse and long-standing producer Paul Epworth.
“Hello” is the lead single and opening song to the album and has already broken records with YouTube hits in excess of 500 million to date. Is it justified? Oh yes. Here is a song that unfolds slowly, she sounds tentative, uncertain on her first words - “Hello, it’s me” accompanied only by two sombre piano chords. Faint strings swell through the second verse before the chorus arrives with a blast, a bass drum and that compelling vocal jumping up a range. It’s a beautiful song of loss and regret but it’s a confident comeback.
“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, is an up –tempo surprise, a song co-written by Max Martin, who knows a thing about penning a pop song – his work includes Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Katy Perry’s “ I Kissed A Girl”. It’s playful and perky with a hint of self-righteousness but seems oddly out of place and not in character with the rest of the album. Although it is refreshing to hear Adele try something different. “I Miss You” has an eerie and moody introduction with off –kilter drums and reverb-drenched woozy gospel backing vocals. It’s smartly produced from regular helper Paul Epworth. Adele infuses every line with nuance and power and it’s an album highlight.
Other notable songs are “When We Were Young”, the second single release co-written with Tobias Jesso Jr. and “All I Ask” , co-written with Bruno Mars. This is Adele at her “ Big Ballad Best” – it’s a real tear-jerker with one or two sensational key changes and heart- breaking lyrics –“ If this is my last night with you/Hold me like I’m more than just a friend/Give me a memory I can use” – its soaring, emotional and utterly heart-wrenching .
“A Million Years Ago” has a seductive melody, a samba- like lilt of guitar and an audible influence of “French Chanson” – It is heartfelt in its rawness and simplicity . Again, Adele is in contemplative mood “I miss the air, I miss my friends” – hinting at her life that was.
“River Lea” is stunning, - bluesy and gospel-tinged and is hard to believe that it is actually an ode to an East London canal near her hometown . The heart of the song is that it is about her roots and reveals a regret of not being able to go back.. “but the reeds are growing out of my fingertips” – Danger Mouse is on board with production and the song is drenched with a smoky sound.
Overall, “25” does live up to the legacy of “21” – ok, it holds few surprises and it would be interesting to see Adele try alternative styles and ideas but when it comes down to it, it’s the sense of “every-woman” emotion that is what people respond to in Adele and her ability to share the secrets of her heart with authenticity and no pretense.