25 has been an excellent test of modern methods of consuming music. Adele, with all of her industry control, has bypassed streaming services and opted for a more traditional release. And of course, it’s already broken records in every direction possible. That’s not to say that the physical music industry is saved – Adele is the biggest star on the planet so the big news that physical music still sells should be taken with a pinch of salt. 25, like 21, falls into the unfortunate trap of sales figures and awards. In reality, it’s eleven songs of impeccable vocals and glossy pop. 25 has been described as a ‘make-up’ record compared to 21’s ‘break-up’, but it feels like a slightly less sad follow-up. It’s slightly more optimistic though somehow loses the bombast of 21, when you’d expect Adele to come out fighting for a ‘make-up’. Nope, no kicking and screaming for well-earnt happiness, just more refined soul and occasional weak spots.
There are actually some surprise moments on 25 which wouldn’t have worked on 21, but appear here for the better. ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’, which follows on from the big pop single ‘Hello’, is upbeat (at least in the instrumentation) and picks up the pace significantly. Acoustic guitar plays a major part and pops right through to compete with Adele’s voice. The sentiment is almost a conclusion to the story on 21, where Adele finally lets go and is happy to be without this person. 21‘s Adele wouldn’t be singing ‘Send my love to your new lover / we both know we aren’t kids no more’, this is the new and improved mature Adele who won’t just sit on her emotions and have a good cry, but take control of them. Only two songs on 25 have the classic duo of Adele and Paul Epworth, longtime producer, on them: ‘I Miss You’ and ‘Sweetest Devotion’, which surprisingly yields the most uninteresting results. ‘I Miss You’ is an organ-led song which starts with atmospheric an atmospheric choir but rarely goes anywhere. The chorus is a by-the-books Adele chorus which wouldn’t have been out of place on anything that she’s done before. The ‘stranger’ songs, by Adele’s standards, have the most interesting outcomes, especially with the likes of Max Martin and Danger Mouse on board. Max Martin, who pretty much runs modern pop, takes the helm on ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’, which makes sense considering how similar it is to something Taylor Swift would make. However, this is as far as Adele goes into what might constitute as ‘modern pop’, she never drops an EDM banger and always falls back on a classic soul ballad to balance out any sidesteps.
Not all the sidesteps go off without a hitch. Danger Mouse’s turn at production on ‘River Lea’ results in a gospel-tinged funk song that retreads across themes that Adele’s already gone over in 21 and 25 countless times. It’s got single power, but that could be said for almost every track on 25. Like always, Adele works best on the piano ballads where her voice is front and centre and she doesn’t have to incorporate extra instrumentation for the sake of it being an upbeat pop song. ‘Love In The Dark’ is that song and will likely be everyone’s favourite Adele ‘weep-song’. It also builds on what ‘Someone Like You’ started, bringing in strings that sound like leftovers from Adele’s time recording a Bond song. It even begins with a piano reminiscent of ‘Someone Like You’, before strings come in underneath to support what is a suspiciously similar piano ballad. ‘Love In The Dark’ is Adele back to 21, where the relationship is falling apart and Adele can’t do a lot about it. Saying that, she still comes off as the stronger one in the relationship when she sings ‘I’m trying to be brave / stop asking me to stay’.
Adele likes to experiment more on 25, possibly something to do with all of that maturing and parenthood that’s happened between albums. The latin-flavoured guitar of ‘Million Years Ago’ breaks what could be a series of downtrodden piano ballads, even though Adele is still being regretful and wishes to go back to where she was before the fame. ‘Million Years Ago’ is also the most directly ‘make-up’ part of the record, where Adele ‘I miss the air, I miss my friends / I miss my mother, I miss it when life was a party to be thrown’. You end up feeling sorry for Adele, that no matter how much success, fame and money is thrown at her, she will end up losing something, whether that’s a relationship or being a normal person who won’t get recognised on the streets. It’s impossible to come out of this record not thinking ‘poor Adele, can’t something go right for her?’. I refuse to believe she’s completely unhappy, though ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ is a sweet kiss-off and ‘Sweetest Devotion’ is finally a celebration of the love that Adele has, though the love is open and could easily be for her child or something romantic. She never explicitly makes it about someone new, so it’s relatable and open-ended.
Adele makes the wise decision not to retread 21 too much, though leaves in enough weepy songs for fans to feel the same way about. The importance of finding happiness in the new album is the next step towards what we can hope is some peace for Adele, because she really, really deserves it by now. Away from the lyrics, the instrumentation is typically glossy for Adele, but the introduction of other instruments such as organ and acoustic guitar make an effort to not just pen Adele into the piano ballad category forever. It’s classic Adele and everything is as smooth as you’d expect; Adele’s voice is something else, as always, so there’s nothing to shout about there. It’s an excellent pop album which doesn’t pull out any weird electronic sidesteps and Adele is still firmly in the soul realm. What she’s saying, especially with the way 25 has been released, is that she doesn’t work for the pop world, the pop world works for her. She has enough industry connections and power to be able to release 25 in whatever way she likes, and it’ll still sell millions. Classy, safe, emotional soul-pop that will sell no matter what score the reviewers give.
Funnel Recommends: Send My Love (To Your New Lover) / When We Were Young / Love In The Dark