I am disappointed. I am disappointed in myself for having unrealistic expectations. I am disappointed in myself for starting to write this review as "a critic" and not as what I am: a fan. I am no critic. I went off on a mini-rant earlier today on topic of critics not being very nice. I'm not always nice, but I cannot listen to music and remove myself from being a fan. I love music too much and too easily. So I've scrapped much of the first draft of this review and am starting over. So that said, as a fan, I like the new album, but I am disappointed.
Adele was one of those artists who blew me away when I first heard her. Her debut, 19, had not one weak track and deserved every bit its 2008 Mercury Prize nomination and the Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammys it earned her in 2009. So, I have been particularly eager for the sophomore follow-up entitled 21. Today sees its release pretty much everywhere except the US and Canada, who must await 22 February. *note: I am a huge fan of the direct buy from artist or record company where possible which means being able to ignore such regional release idiocy most of the time. But that is another rant entirely.
The title of this review, when I was pretending to be a critic, was going to be "Adele - 21: Less Intimate, More Mature" That was after the three complete listens it had had, the themes sung about within, and the thought of how a critic would try to categorize her growth as a person and an artist. That's some bull pucky if I ever heard it. 19 was mature. 19 dealt with a variety of themes whilst managing to be simple yet diverse in the musical style. Adele's voice was never secondary and never overshadowed by the accompaniment. It was award winning and stands as one of my favourite albums ever. How is that not mature?
What I hoped from 21 was the unrealistic expectation that it would be more of the same. There are flashes of that, to be sure, but I cannot help but be disappointed in the more grand production style of the majority the album. For me, it does too often push her voice aside. The vocals on 19 saw much more freedom than those of 21. Here her voice seem more constrained and much less free to wow me it did on 19. That combination of unleashed vocals within simpler arrangements made me an instant fan of Adele. I can understand the branching out and the adding of more layered music, yet I find myself longing for less of it.
What really brought that home for me was watching the live webcast of Adele's concert from The Tabernacle at London today as seen on adele.tv It was a simple setup: a keyboard player and Adele, sometimes with her guitar. More than half of the songs were from 19. I believe that was the case as much because they better fit the intimate setting as it was because there were so many hits off of 19. This was a 21 release party of sorts, yet the songs of 19 seemed to take centre stage.
The tracks on 21 which were instant love for me are the prerelease single "Rolling In The Deep", the brilliant cover of The Cure's "Lovesong", and the soft laments, "Someone Like You" and "Hiding My Heart". Rolling in the Deep has more of that new style, but without overshadowing that voice and letting her do her thing. It was liked on first listen and loved soon after. Lovesong was loved immediately. Well, actually, I didn't know what to think for the first 10 seconds and then I saw it was amazing. I find I like it more with repeated listens. Someone Like You is an emotionally raw look at a love lost but not gone. The album ends with Hiding My Heart, the most intimate track on the album. In fact, the last bit of the album is the strongest to my ears, aside from Rolling In The Deep.
Again, I do like this album and I expect I will grow to eventually love every song with more listens. I think most people will enjoy it and it could be that 21 is more commercially viable than her debut. I do not believe it will ever reach me the way 19 has, however, and that disappoints me.