Imagine if the new Adele album had been sub-par. What would happen? A “Skyfall” is probably the best guess. One has to wonder what the album she scrapped sounds like. Maybe one day the world will be privy to it, but for now, let’s bask in the magnificence that is 25.
21 is the first album to go diamond after release since Usher’s Confessions, which was released in 2004. No album released since then has come close to hitting that mark. However, 25 has reached the highest first week sales of an album in history (both in the US & UK), and just became the first album in US sales history to sell 1 million copies in a second week. Adele is a monster. She captivates and drives fans to record stores. The album isn’t even streaming, and it’s not slowing her down. At. All.
From the opening piano lines of “Hello”, it’s crystal clear that the body of work to follow is going to be big. As the song crescendos, instrumentation fills in, and Adele’s voice howls until “hello from the other side” is seared into your memory. It’s a new generation of power ballad that Celine Dion probably wishes she could have gotten her hands on. From there, she takes the one obscure turn stylistically on “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”. It’s a guitar riff she’s had since something on Amy Winehouse’s Frank inspired her to create it, but was finally inspired to build on it while working on this album (with a little inspiration from Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble”). It’s a fun, bouncy, kiss-off with a perfect piece of contemporary pop thanks to producer Max Martin.
“I Miss You” is dark and haunting, with drums that are reminiscent, most recently, of Beyoncé’s “Haunted,” and both have a similarly haunting yet sensual quality and sing of yearning. An interesting turning point comes in the form of “When We Were Young.” Adele has called it her favorite song that she’s ever written, and it is a stellar composition. However, it feels somewhat incomplete for the pop world. The chorus sounds more like a pre-chorus on an initial listen. Further listens distinguish the pre-chorus and actual chorus, but there’s still something to be desired.
She closes side one with “Remedy”, a beautiful flowing piano ballad. This is one of two on this album that recall 21‘s “Turning Tables” and “Take It All.” Topically it’s a sign of where her life is now: on 21, these piano ballads were broken-hearted, relationship enders. Now, she sings confidently “when the pain cuts you deep… just look and you will see… I will be your remedy.” Progress is a beautiful thing.
Side 2 picks up with “Water Under The Bridge,” an ode to her current beau and baby-daddy. This one is a foot-stomper, with a touch of gospel charge in there. The second side is where things become especially memorable. “River Lea” is an homage to the river that flows through her hometown, and she alludes to its’ polluted waters to being the cause for her failures in relationships. The Rick Rubin-produced song is structured in an interesting fashion, with stripped-back, slowed-down verses, and a chorus that picks up and captivates. From there she digs in with her second piano ballad, “Love In The Dark.” Again, this one very closely recalls “Turning Tables,” lush orchestral arrangement and all.
The clear standout song of this album is the one added to the track list 3 days before mixing, “Million Years Ago.” The acoustic ballad is an explosion of nostalgia and melancholy. It’s written in a fashion that makes it timeless. Anyone from 15 to 25 and 45 to 85 (and in between and beyond) can relate to “I know I’m not the only one, who regrets the things they’ve done. Sometimes I just feel it’s only me, who never became who they thought they’d be.” She sings it so soulfully and emotionally, it’s difficult not to stop, listen and have a flashback to a regrettable moment.
Hearing that Adele not only collaborated with Bruno Mars, but that their collaboration also made the album was a bit surprising. Regardless, their output, “All I Ask,” is another standout track. She sings of a relationship’s end, asking on that if this moment is it, make it count. She painfully sings “it matters how this ends, cause what if I never love again?” The song crescendos with a perfectly placed key change, allowing Adele to vocally drive this home run out of the park. The album’s closer “Sweetest Devotion” is an ode to her son, Angelo. It’s the perfect upbeat unconditional love song to bookmark not only this body of work, but also Adele’s personal snapshot of 25.