Whispers of a new album had been rife for a while, but when British belter Adele finally picked up her flip phone and asked the world “Hello, how are you?”, the response was immediate. And huge. All the better for hearing you again, Adele.
27 year-old Adele Laurie Blue Adkins is a rarity in modern pop music. One part powerhouse balladeer the other part potty-mouthed Tottenham lass, her songs tap into an emotional register so raw and real she makes herself cry! Three years ago she left us on a high note – epic Bond theme ‘Skyfall’, a bun in the oven and an Oscar on the shelf. A hiatus for home life ensued, but the desire to write and create new music would strike once more, and it was obvious (from the online world, at least) that the third album would be drenched in high expectations.
The first single ‘Hello’ smashed all records when it and its accompanying video (a sepia-tinged clip from French Canadian director Xavier Dolan) dropped last month, but clicks aside, it was an exquisite track. She was back. From the moment her translucent green cats eyes looked down the barrel of the lens from beneath sweeping and spidery false lashes, there was actually nothing false about it. With that irrepressible voice still soaked in nostalgia and heartache, it is another powerful ode to anyone she’s ever left behind in her life, and for once, we’re not just talking about an ex-boyfriend. Sparse piano lead the way, with telephone dial-tones becoming the climactic bass – big and ballad-y, just how we like our Adele.
The lyrics “when we were younger and free” hinted at second single ‘When We Were Young’ (aka ‘Someone Like You’ Part II), in all its old Hollywood glamour glory, subtle screeches and all. With the lyrics “you look like a movie, you sound like a song” the most soaring. ‘Hello’s’ lines “there’s such a difference between us, and a million miles”, also references melancholic stunner – and the album’s highlight, in my opinion – ‘Million Years Ago’. Naked, Spanish guitar juxtaposed against a mature, storytelling voice that is deep and resonant.“I miss the air, I miss my friends, I miss my mother” is tinged in tear-stained authenticity and the realisation that fame has, in many ways, interrupted Adele’s sense of identity and normality. Tissues at the ready for that one.
‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ with all its popcorn bass beats and buoyant, funky chorus is Adele’s most mainstream song, complete with verse “Mmmm-mmm’s” a la Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’. “We ain’t kids no more” proves she is still looking back but there’s no bitterness or jealously, it’s more make peace and move on. ‘I Miss You’ is a sensual slow jam with a bare drumbeat intro, followed up with husky inflections and the vibrant tinkling of the ivories on ‘Remedy’.
‘Water Under the Bridge’ is echoey and stuttering with 80s enthusiasm and zealous backing. “If you’re gonna let me down, let me down gently, don’t pretend that you don’t want me, our love ain’t water under the bridge”. Co-written with Danger Mouse, the organ start and verses of ‘River Lea’ are misleadingly boring, but bear with it because the chorus is uber catchy. ‘All I Ask’ – penned with chart-topper Bruno Mars – presents itself as a big 90s Disney ballad fit for Celine or Whitney with a formulaic and melodramatic chorus. Ultimately, its not very memorable in comparison to other lyrically meatier tracks, and similarly you’ll probably skip over the sorrowful ‘Love In The Dark’.
‘Sweetest Devotion’ ends the album upbeat and optimistic. Sounds of kids playing and laughing in the intro is Adele’s first real nod to her partner and son. Her voice is full and genuine, twirling around a melody that finally brings the string instruments back. “I wasn’t ready then, I’m ready now, I’m heading straight for you” shows not only her maturity but her contentment, something pretty brand new in an Adele track.
25 is another really solid offering from a singer we’ve come to expect above and beyond from. Does it set fire to the rain? Well, no, but it’s better than that. It doesn’t need to be a blockbuster of a record, it just needs to feel real. That’s the beauty of Adele – what you see is what you get, so what you hear is what you get too. Insert satisfied witchy cackle here.
25 is out now via XL Recordings / Remote Control Records.