Adele chases new pavements in sophomore album success

In 2008, when Adele released her debut album 19, the lead single “Chasing Pavements” became the sort of ballad – aimed somewhere between angst and anguish – that encapsulates the conflicted infatuation of young adult love. Such songs are nearly born for montages and rainy embraces in movies. Adele was, incidentally, 19 at the time of the album’s production and release, yet she sounded wise and weary beyond her years. Well, vocally at least …
The lyrics don’t quite match the production values and vocals in terms of ingenuity or sharpness, and the album was overall an inconsistent effort, saved from disintegration only by the performer’s own, unique, sonic gravity. In fact, if there was anything ‘green’ about her work, it was the writing, and the perhaps naïve desire to conquer all sorts of songs. The importance of lyrics between genres isn’t a constant, and the way Adele sings – bending and contorting words and phrases, cutting deftly over vocal registers – seems to outright disrespect them in pursuit of an aesthetic end.
Adele’s sophomore effort 21 might suffer from the same problem. Released on Feb. 22, the album’s first single “Rolling in the Deep” is a darkly-tinted banger. The drums and guitar are primal and the chorus undeniably big in a spare kind of way. It’s followed by a similarly aggressive, percussive cut “Rumour Has It.” Both songs show a confident, sensually bold and broken Adele, but the tone they set isn’t immediately continued: The next songs, “Turning Tables,” “Don’t You Remember” and “Set Fire to the Rain” represent a drop in energy and stylistic focus. “Remember” can be plodding at times, and “Fire” is tipped over by a bit too much grandness. The strings are an overbearing presence, and the echoing vocals sound like they were produced in a cavern; it may be the weakest point on the entire album. “Turning Tables,” on the other hand, manages to balance the strings with the weight of a strong piano presence, and while sentiment is always a visible precipice, the reality of pain is much closer.
From there the album hits a stride with “He Won’t Go,” “Take It All” and “I’ll Be Waiting.” “He Won’t Go” is an up-tempo song about, of course, not going. There is something naïve about its slightly antagonistic proclamation of devotion, and it provides a sunny break in the album’s progression. “I’ll Be Waiting” is also up-tempo, and it’s big fun. The chorus is catchy and sounds like a car ride, and the horns are brassy and slick. Wedged between these two lighter pieces is “Take It All,” a raw, heavy meditation on loss that sticks to the ribs. The grouping of these three pieces works better than the first three because the tones and moods in each song contain resonances and foreshadowing in the others, and the music production values are more compatible.
The album stumbles a bit toward its end. “One and Only” is a very listenable retread of previous ideas, but it alternates between dragging and momentous. “Lovesong,” while blessed with a stunning vocal, is a moment of self-destructive zeal – the attempt to shake things up ends up sounding like elevator slow jazz. The final song of the album, “Someone Like You,” obscures these missteps because it is the best on the album. Its simplicity, with nothing but a piano as backing, manages to expose a range of complexity in Adele’s rhythm that is almost cinematic in its ability to create images. She keens over the melody, and the effect is unremittingly breathtaking.
Adele tries a lot of different things on this album, with mixed levels of success. Yet it can’t be said that any of them fail, for every moment is made interesting by her idiosyncratic vocal style and the unrepentant, bare emotion she brings to the table. The ordering of the songs can be disorienting, but at times it provides for interesting tensions between seemingly incompatible parts. As for the songs that are missteps, they often present interesting analyses for what exactly Adele does – how she manages to change and elevate songs that might falter in less capable hands. At its best moments, it presents a sorrow not entirely crushed by cynicism, an image of a growing experience steeped in pain.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *