You know when a song or an artist just seems to get you? When lyrics, melodies and emotions have a profound resonance with your own feelings?
That’s the reason Adele’s ‘21’ was so successful. Her songs have such depth of truth, yet are general enough for everyone to relate to her. Except me. At 21, Adele was experiencing things I never had. Perhaps I was a late bloomer. Perhaps Adele was old before her time. Perhaps both. Now, a few years down the line, I can finally appreciate her songwriting. At times it feels like ‘25’ was written and performed just for me, like she’s cracked open my mind and expressed things more musically and poetically than I could ever imagine. At last I can say: “I get you Adele and she gets me”.
Thematically, with ‘25’ Adele continues to work in broad brushstrokes, with layered meanings we can interpret in our own way. It’s meant to be an album laced with nostalgia as she looks back and reflects on her past, a theme she originally depicted in breakout hit Hometown Glory. When We Were Young is her most obvious expression of this here, as if she’s singing through a sepia filter: “You look like a movie, you sound like a song”. Million Years Ago, meanwhile, is more an exploration of how her life has changed and the cost of fame she so doggedly eschews – addressing people from her past she sings “They can’t look me in the eye, it’s like they’re scared of me”. And with River Lea she looks to her past, specifically Tottenham where she grew up, as the cause of the emotional turmoil she’s suffered. For a handful of songs, it feels like ‘25’ has a very different emotional resonance than ‘21’ and for one brief moment (the Max Martin penned Send My Love (To Your New Lover)) it seems that Adele is finally over heartbreak.
It doesn’t last, though. Opener Hello might be ambiguous as to who is on the receiving end of her phone calls (a lover, or her past self?), but soon Adele settles into familiar heartbreak mode. Love In The Dark, specifically, is one of her most visceral and haunting break-up songs sung from the flip-side of her usual position – here Adele is the one being “cruel to be kind”. “It is the world to me that you are in my life”, she sings, “but I want to live and not just survive”, swelling strings and piano layering the tears to breaking point. Water Under The Bridge has more confliction of emotion: “If you’re not the one for me, why do I hate the idea of being free?”. Later there’s All I Ask, co-written with Bruno Mars - with its simple piano arrangement and key change it feels like the most melodramatic song on the album, something Adele has never been, though it’s questioning “what if I never love again?” lyric is a gut-puncher. Even I Miss You, the album’s darkest most sexually charged moment, is tinged with sadness (“I miss you when the lights go out”).
There is positivity here, though. With its laughing children, there’s no doubt as to who album closer Sweetest Devotion is aimed at, with Adele finding in her child the “sweetest devotion” she never found elsewhere. And for the rest of us, there’s the Ryan Tedder penned Remedy. Sure, it may be a little self-gratifying, but for many of us Adele’s music really is a “remedy” to our own heartbreak.
If the lyrical content is sometimes too familiar, then sonically ‘25’ has the same bluesy, gospel tinged sound and often lacks a raw edge. At times it even borders on Radio 2 easy listening mode, even though there’s nothing easy about listening to such emotive songwriting. Working with Greg Kurstin on Hello perhaps hinted at a more pop-orientated sound, its production equally at home on mainstream radio and beyond. That continues with Send My Love (To Your New Lover), by far the most ‘pop’ moment of the album. Later, Water Under The Bridge has a sort of Jessie Ware coolness to it with its muted guitars (also produced by Kurstin), but anyone expecting Adele to go full electro-pop or put a donk on her music will be left wanting. Of course she would probably never do that, but it does exemplify a lack of experimentation with ‘25’. Most of the album is a stripped back affair which allows the emotion to take the fore, but also exposes how the songwriting just isn’t quite as good as ‘21’, lacking that same emotional resonance and those memorable moments.
Even “not quite as good” Adele, though, is still a remarkable singer-songwriter, who makes music out of personal tragedy and is a voice for us all, a voice that is deep and rich and powerful and loaded with feeling. She is a soul singer not just in that her voice is soulful, but in that it cuts through to our own souls and strips us to our core. ‘25’ may not hit the dizzying heights of ‘21’, but then she was never going to do that, was she?
* Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
* Love In The Dark
* Love In The Dark
Listen: ‘25’ is available now.