Just in case you've been asleep for half a decade, Adele reached superstar status in 2011 after a memorable rendition of her hit record, Someone Like You, at The Brit Awards. The following year, she went viral: flying the Union Jack proudly, she cooly landed six Grammys in LA, before hopping back across the pond in time to deliver an equally jaw-dropping performance of Rolling In The Deep at The Brits, a week later. I was lucky enough to have been there for that performance, though I’ve never been asked back. Not sure why. Perhaps it’s something to do with stumbling over a couch heavily under the influence and launching a large glass of red wine over a music executive in the process?
So, 25. I was a fan of Adele at 19 and 21, and when I heard Hello on the radio, the opening track on this third record, I warmed to it instantly. It was, well, Adele. But it was only when my American mate, Will, posted a live version of When We Were Young, recorded at The Church in London on his Facebook page that I really woke up to what Adele was doing. It was her delivery that astounded me more than anything: engaging, emotional, and totally remarkable. And what a song. I downloaded 25 there and then, took a deep breath, and dived right in. And then this happened.
Normally when I hear a record for the first time, I skim through (we all do, right?) and stop when I’m feeling something. But that didn’t happen with 25. And the last time that didn’t happen, in fact, was in the late ‘90s when Radiohead released OK Computer. I was in a band at the time, aspiring to be another Radiohead, so they could do wrong in my eyes. But Adele? I wasn’t expecting that.
After listening twice through to 25, Hello had already dropped down to perhaps my fifth or sixth favourite song on the album, and that’s when I knew I was absorbing something special. I had discovered Remedy, one of a handful of beautiful piano ballads, with that effortless trademark Adele vocal; the beautifully produced Water Under The Bridge and River Lea, in both of which Adele wears her heart firmly on her sleeve; and by the time I got to track nine, A Million Years, my heart was sat firmly in my mouth. Adele is so open, lyrically, which I love; and she proves that her baritone quality is just as strong as her powerful high range. The vocal sits beautifully with the song’s Spanish sounding acoustic guitars, and what a creative chord structure, too.
Emotionally exhausted, All I Ask takes me even closer to the edge! This beautiful piano-led ballad wouldn’t have looked out of place on Christina Aguilera’s excellent 2002 release, Stripped. There’s more than a hint of the great Linda Perry about this track, so it came as no surprise to find out that another world-class songwriter, Bruno Mars (and his Smeezingtons crew), helped pen it with her: ‘Take me by the hand while we do what lovers do, it matters how this ends, ‘cos what if I never love again?’ I think I’d better sit down.
It’s right up there with the best on the album, but for now, the track that drew me to 25 in the first place remains my favourite: When We Were Young. It’s lost love at its most hopeless;
Adele at her most vulnerable; and vocally, she manages to turn purity into grit, guts, and aggression. And which is more, how can the lyric, ‘let me photograph you in this light in case it is the last time’ not speak to someone who’s felt any heartbreak in their life? It’s melancholically addictive,
and plays tug o’ war with your heart strings throughout. It took me back years, places I thought I’d never go again, so Christ alone knows what it does to the artist herself.
This is Adele at her very best, and most heartbreaking. 25 truly showcases her songwriting skills - and my, has she chosen her collaborators wisely. Although there’s sweet soul music in abundance throughout this record, the most outstanding instrument on display is her unmistakable voice which, somehow, keeps getting better with age.