In midwinter of 2011, I was waiting for many things. With snow piled up outside my window, I was definitely waiting for spring, but beyond that I was waiting for a singer’s album. Not just an album where someone with a vaguely nice voice hums over a few guitar chords, but one with a singer. Someone who could both croon and wail. Someone who could remind us in a world of half -baked talent how pristine the human voice can be.
I found that album, and it had Adele’s name on it. Her release 21, is hands down my favorite album of walks. Adele’s sultry voice is like no other. It has a mellow, mysterious quality to it. Her singing has matured a little since her last album, and so has her songwriting.
The themes of the album tracks are as old as time. The songs speak of heartache, unfaithfulness, unrequited love, and old flames. The opening track “Rolling in the Deep” tells of a move beyond heartache. After the acoustic guitar opens the track with pulsing eighth notes, the song falls into a catchy disco/soul verse that opens up into a thick chorus complete with backup singers. A great opening, and an extremely successful single, this is the one track everyone knows.
“Someone Like You” is the other big hit from the album. Adele’s voice is pristine on this track, but the way she spins the words sounds like she’s sitting next to you murmuring into a glass of wine. The verses do use a rhyme scheme, but even with that they are almost written in a stream of conscience. She’s having the conversation that so many have had with the one that got away either in person, or in thoughts. In the bridge she spins the words into threads of thought;
“I hate to turn up out of the blue
But I couldn’t stay away
I couldn’t fight it
I’d hoped you’d see my face
And that you’d be reminded
That for me
It isn’t overÂ¦”
Although Adele opens and closes her album with two very different showstoppers, whatever you do, don’t forget the gems in the middle. One of my favorites is “One and Only,” which showcases Adele’s powerful vocal ability. It is toward the end of that song that she really lets go with tasteful melismas, and growling soulful pleading. Her singing brings up echoes of Etta James with its plaintive but powerful belt, and phrasing that drips with desperation. Other highlights of the album include her cover of “Lovesong” by the cure, and “Rumour Has It”, which showcases a hefty backbeat and dark vocals.
Every once in a while a vocalist comes along reminding us that we can expect greatness in singing. Adele’s first album introduced such a vocalist to the world, and thankfully her album 21 confirmed her talent and her prowess as a singer and musician. Adele’s lyrics are good enough, but her singing is transcendent, and what the lyrics lack in depth, is made up for in their compelling conversational tone. 21 is one of the best albums of 2011, and in every sultry lift, powerful belt, or soft croon Adele reminds us that one of the greatest, most powerful instruments is the lonely human voice.