After early success and general approval, Adele slumped somewhat into the singer-songwriter doldrums; too talented to considered be along the lines of Duffy / Bruno Mars dross but far too Brits-school to be the calibre of a Marling, Spektor or (dare we say it) a Mitchell. The completely transparent naming of her records (first ’19’, now ’21’) suggest all too clearly we are meant to see an element of maturation from the clearly talented artist but, whilst the singles of ’19’ impressed, she has proven to be light on the quality needed to expand on this.
First impressions of her second record are not all too dissimilar. ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is unlikely to have avoided your ears so far, be it via Jamie xx’s electric remix or playing in the background at the Rover’s Return, and is certifiably a great song. The next few tracks remain upbeat and defiant with a mix of tenderness, ‘Rumour Has It’ being tuneful despite its lack of depth and ‘Turning Tables’ setting a softer tone revisited later in the album. Vulnerability creeps into total songwriting naivety and descends later into ‘What-the-hell-are-you-on-about?’ stuff (see the atrocious ‘Set Fire To The Rain’) and at times it just feels like you’re getting fobbed off with second best because all the good ones went indie.
The saving grace comes with ‘Take It All’ as Adele goes downbeat, lamenting and finds in herself some of the elements of soulfulness which are lost when trumpets and jazz pianos are added elsewhere, a problem of production perhaps. However, even next track ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ contains these cliches and manages to pull off a pretty good stab at a track off ‘Dusty in Memphis’. Doubtlessly though, the album’s zenith is ‘Someone Like You’. Turning brokenhearted teenagers to mush across the country already (those who watched the Brits at least), this next single deserves its place as album closer in a tragic deliberation of loss and circumstance. It is the ‘Hometown Glory’ of Adele’s second album and finishes off a good recovery; matured or not, she definitely has some better songs these days.
21 is out now, and you can check out lead single ‘Rolling In the Deep’ Below.