- Vancouver, British Columbia - A few years ago I heard of Adele as she released a pretty good single called “Chasing Pavements.” I actually liked that song a lot, but didn't really pursue her music much beyond that. Fast forward to a couple years later and a familiar voice comes over the radio. It's a bit of a shock for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't realize that Adele was big enough to make it onto the radio. Second, there was a new good song on the radio. And it's a very good song. You've likely heard “Rolling in the Deep” playing around town. It's been the longest running #1 single of 2011 so far.
This album is a pleasant surprise on the pop charts. It's been massively successful and is critically acclaimed to boot and it makes sense why. The song is great! I would say that, from what I've heard, “Rolling in the Deep” is one of the best singles of the year. It's got passion, grit, drama, and Adele's stunning voice carrying it through a 3 minute and 48 second run time. It's great... which is why it's all the more shocking to me that it's popular right now.
I don't think that I've hidden the fact that I do not like a lot of modern pop music. I don't hate the idea of pop music. In fact, I love what pop should be. It just seems that too many artists play it safe and release the same old songs about partying and clubbing and going to parties and clubs. It's boring, uninspired garbage and I just wish that we could go back to the days when artists actually put some of themselves into their songs. I know that he's a hard guy to top, but Michael Jackson became the legend that he still is today because he worked very hard on making his music.
So, in 2011 when a crisp and clear soul singer comes onto the radio with a power house of a voice, free of autotune, singing about heartbreak with an unrestrained passion, you can understand why I think that this is so disproportionately better than anything else it's up against at this time. But I suppose what's really important is if the album lives up to the lead single's promise. Because so much of an album's success rides on the first single, sometimes it winds up being one of, if not, the only really great song on the album. And boom, you buy the song on iTunes and call it a day.
I am here to tell you that you have nothing to fear if you pick up a copy of 21. The album is very solid. It's great to hear a throwback to the Motown era of music that doesn't really sound like it's trying to be a throwback to the Motown era. What I mean is that it comes across as if it's very natural and was the logical direction for her music to go in, considering the sort of voice that she has. Frankly, her gift would be wasted on club music.
Though I am left wondering if I'm judging this album based on its own merits or the shortcomings of its peers. Maybe that isn't the most fair approach. Of course you'd give the medal to the able bodied person who wins the race in the Special Olympics.
While there is a tragic undertone to her music, for the most part it has a lot to offer musically. The songs are very diverse and never feel like you're listening to the same song over and over. The melodies, tempo and rhythm change often as 21 progresses and we're given a whole different assortment of flavours, despite some of the same ingredients.
And let's be fair, this album isn't perfect. None of the songs are bad, but there are a few too many slow piano songs for my taste, though I do enjoy that they are spread throughout the album so as not to get too repetitive. But my favourite tracks are the ones with more energy. “Rumour Has It” is a catchy and energetic blend of genres, indulging in blues and country roots, but in a good way. It stands well on its own and is a very unique track on the album. “Set Fire to the Rain” is a remarkable track, which has darker undertones and feels like a cinematic in scope. Adele's voice soars in it, but is also restrained when it needs to be. I enjoy it a lot. “I'll Be Waiting” is another great song with big band elements. It's nice that the album is willing to take a break from the sadder tone of most of the songs. This one is fun, energetic and often very catchy.
Another thing I appreciate about the album is, while it is often about heartbreak and lost romance, it never feels depressing. There is some hope within the music. Perhaps the album's creation served as some therapy to her. It doesn't feel like she's pointing the finger or wishing hurt on someone else, it just feel like it captures the raw emotions that come with break-ups and loss.
It certainly isn't any wonder why 21 is performing as well as it is. It's becoming one of the best selling albums by a female artist, competing against the likes of Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morisette, which is no easy feat, especially in an era where people don't really want to buy their music. But it's come out in a time where music needs it and music fans are eager for something like it. It's beautiful, dark, and sincere which is sadly lacking on the pop charts. It's the kind of music not lost in the era which it was born in and that's important for albums with lasting power. And I do believe that it will last.
Rating: 4.5/5 Sour Grapes