Radio stars create music that makes you bob your head up and down, while simultaneously beating your steering wheel like a drum and singing at the top of your lungs. But rarely does their music make you want to close your eyes and feel every beat and every word. That special task is left to musicians like 22-year-old Adele.
In her latest album, 21 — set to be released on Feb. 22 in the U.S. — Adele tells the story of a woman who just can’t let go of the man she’s no longer with. She oscillates back-and-forth between loving him and wanting him back between despising him and declaring her independence from him.
The last song, “Someone Like You,” captures the entire story of the album. Adele wishes her love the best of luck in life now that he has moved on and has a family and a career. At the same time, she reminds him that he was at his best when they were together. In her confusion, Adele can’t figure out whether she’s really truly over him or if she can’t live without him. To console herself, she asserts that she will find someone like him.
Some songs, like “Rumor Has It,” are catchy and repetitive and will probably make radio playlists everywhere. Other songs, like “Set Fire to the Rain,” are melodic and full of anguish. This song starts slow and builds up to explosive heights. It opens with a short piano introduction that remains steady in the background. Simple, repetitive drumming follows. Then a powerful orchestra joins in, giving the song the final push it needs to reach its high point.
Songs like this one display the power and soul in Adele’s voice because they give her range to play with softer sounds in the build-up and harsher, more rock-influenced sounds during the high points. Another song, “Take It All,” has some of the same qualities. But the added bonus in this song is the gospel choir that echoes Adele at some key points, emphasizing the most poignant message of the song, “take it all.”
The best song on the album by far is the first single released, “Rolling in the Deep.” This track opens up with an acoustic guitar, harkening to down-South blues music. The gospel choir and hand clapping and stomping in the track further add to this feel. On the lyrical side, this song has the potential to become the break-up anthem of 2011.
Apart from the story, 21 showcases Adele’s soulful voice in ways her first album 19 did not. Her first album was a pretty standard pop-soul album; it was just a little bit more than every pop singer’s introductory mainstream album. But 21 is an album with mood swings. This time, the pop undertone plays second fiddle to the blues, soul, jazz, rock and gospel influences. Adele, the soulful lady of London, is finally in her element with this album.