Although certainly not an unknown in the U.S., Adele has not yet reached the level of popularity she enjoys in her native England. If there is any justice in the music world, that crime should be rectified once her second album "21" drops Stateside. Simply put, Adele, primarily with the help of producer Rick Rubin, has made the first great album of 2011.
Adele explores some new musical directions on "21", but it is not such a radical departure that fans of her debut "19" will feel left behind. At the heart of all these songs is still her amazing voice, truly one of the greatest in today's music. Adele's music has never been strictly soul or R&B, though you'd be hard pressed to find a more soulful singer. Nashville played a big influence on "21" and there are elements of country, gospel and blues mixed with the soulful sounds Adele became known for. Nowhere is this more evident than the first single, the Paul Epworth produced perfection "Rolling In The Deep". This sassy, stomping ode to a love gone bad kicks the album off as a declaration of the new sounds being explored this time around.
The upbeat Nashville sound continues on the next track "Rumour Has It" with the repeated chorus calling to mind 60's girl group harmonies. But "21" quickly settles into a mid-tempo groove with one of its many ballads, and one of its best, in "Turning Tables". Amidst piano and strings, Adele sings "I won't let you close enough to hurt me" in a bold declaration of protection from future heartbreak. "Set Fire To The Rain" is another standout, with an anthemic chorus that will burn into your skull. Her torchy remake of The Cure classic "Lovesong" is a highlight as well. I am not always the biggest fan of covers, but her voice is so mesmerizing, she could sing my mortgage agreement and make it sound interesting to me.
Much like on "19", many of the songs on "21" focus on heartbreak and relationships ending or going wrong. Yet Adele's lyrics are so emotionally stirring and personal, you can't help but be moved. The album closes with its emotional highpoint, the devastatingly gorgeous piano ballad "Someone Like You". She sings to a former lover who has moved on and settled down with another, while she is left holding on to what could have been. Although she tries to present a picture of bravery, her words betray her and lay bare the hurt and frustration one feels when someone you loved has moved on and you can't. Adele sings "I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited/ but I couldn't stay away 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" before delivering the dagger of a chorus. "Never mind I'll find someone like you/ I wish nothing but the best for you too/ Don't forget me I think I remember you said/ Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead." Her stunning recent live performance of this masterpiece on the Jools Holland show is not to be missed either.
"Someone Like You" puts the exclamation point on a monumental work. I was already looking forward to this album, but I don't think even I was expecting what surely will be one of the best releases of 2011. An essential album that sets the musical bar high for the rest of 2011.
"21" will be released in the U.S. February 22, 2011 on Columbia/XL Records.