January 24, 2011
10 Musical Thoughts on Adele's 21
How any record will top Adele's second album, I'll never know. Let's hope someone is up to the task... 21 is one of the finest albums in years. Here are ten favorite moments on ten solid songs, in no order:
Rolling In The Deep, literally the best first single from an album in many a year, is spiked by wicked Ikette-ish backing vocals. There was a rumor, since debunked, that the voice is Roisin Murphy. This is not insane: it really does sound like Roisin, though I presume it's actually Adele. I always sing along with those bits. Handclaps (2:30ish) never hurt.
Rumour Has It, which sounds like a Paul Epworth production (those drums!), but is actually a Ryan Tedder track, is perhaps the most sophisticated thing he's ever twizzled. Like a play within a play, Rumour has a song within a song. The middle eight (2:13) is sweeping and grand. The Patsy Cline moment when her voice cracks - "people say cra-azy things" - is sublime.
Turning Tables is perhaps the song that leads into this album from Adele's debut, 19. The bridge to the chorus ("I can't keep up with your turning tables...") is instantly classic - a perfect arrangement of notes. The final moments of the song are a quiet, foreboding piece of drama.
Set Fire To The Rain sounds the most like 2011. A Fraser T Smith production (he is hot hot hot right now), it's slick but the melody is gorgeous. All of Adele's songs could be stripped bare and revealed to be more beautiful. Like the last song, I think it's the bridge to the chorus that pleases me most: (:44) "There's a side to you that I never knew, never knew..."
He Won't Go, rightfully declared the Mary J Blige Moment by, well, everybody. You know what makes this? The bass. Or is it actually a keyboard on the chorus that steps. right. up. like a bass? Musicians, what is it? I also love how the song rolls open on the middle eight.
Take It All is an Elton in the 70's homage. This is all about the voice. The pièce de résistance moment for me is at 3:16 the way she drawls out the word all on the line "just take it all with my love."
I'll Be Waiting is kind of Laura Nyro, for those old and New Yorky enough to get the reference. Laura Nyro meets... Carole King. The middle eight is sublime, but its great moment comes at 3:19, when "I left you speechlesssssss" lifts the song up onto its platform heels. And then it marches away.
One And Only passed me by the first time I played it. It's like another Elton John song, if bluesier. But then I had a cathartic pop moment when I recognized the hair-raising middle eight at 3:24, with the truest words on the album: "I know it ain't easy giving up your heart... Nobody's perfect, trust me I've learned it." The choir sends it right over into a crying scene. Me, not Adele. She holds it together. Note: this is my favorite moment on 21
Lovesong is a brilliant way to follow the previous song. Why write a love song when the definitive one exists? Adele strips it down and maintains the undercurrent of melancholy. Love isn't easy. She really emphasizes the intimacy on the repeated line "Whenever I'm alone with you." Grown up love.
Someone Like You, for me, all comes down to one stanza she repeats a few times during the song: "I hate to turn up out of the blue invited / But I couldn't stay way, I couldn't fight it / I had hoped you'd see my face / And that you'd be reminded that, for me, it isn't over." The way that she tips that last word over at 2:32 is perfect. Beauty. Sadness. The whole lot.
21 is out now in most places except the USA, where it's out Feb 22. Insanity.