25 (Beggars Banquet)
Even though no one has ever questioned the sincerity of Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, her third release, 25, raises a big question: is Britain’s most successful chanteuse singing straight from the heart, or is she simply giving fans what they want to hear?
God knows that the platinum-certified mega-star has plenty to be happy about. And we’re not just talking about the fact that she’s a platinum-certified mega-star at a time when most artists are lucky if their records go tin.
In the four years since the release of 2011’s stratospheric 21 the singer has scored a best-original song Academy Award for the James Bond film theme “Skyfall” and hobnobbed with the royal family at Buckingham Palace, accepting a 2013 Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from no less than Prince Charles.
She’s not only gotten happily married and given birth to a son, but managed the often-impossible task of keeping out of the tabloids while being one of the most famous women in the world.
Oh, and a couple of years back she also landed in the number-six spot on Forbes’s list of the highest-paid celebrities under 30, which is to say that, even if she never manages another hit, Adele won’t be worrying about strapping on the green Starbucks apron.
So why in the hell does she not only wallow in darkness and sadness on 25, but sound completely convincing doing it?
A number of themes surface time and time again on 11 elegant and tastefully dramatic tracks coloured by cinematic strings and candlelit piano.
The various miseries of love is a major one.
The first lines we hear on 25 are “Hello, it’s me/I was wondering if, after all these years/You’d like to meet, to go over everything/They say that time's supposed to heal ya/But I ain't done much healing”.
Things aren’t exactly all sunshine and rainbows from there. Song titles like “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, “I Miss You”, and “Million Years Ago” suggest that someone is working out personal issues for the entire world to see. Anyone who ever’s been in a relationship floundering on the rocks won’t have trouble relating to “Love In the Dark” and its chorus “It feels like we’re oceans part/There is so much space between us/Maybe we’re already defeated.”
The subject of getting older also hangs over the record. As you might guess from the song’s title, it’s there in the smokey Edith Piaf–indebted torch track “When We Were Young”, where Adele’s powerhouse pipes wring every bit of pathos out of lines like “Let me photograph you in this light/In case it is the last time/That we might be exactly like we were/Before we realized we were sad of getting old.”
All shimmering church organs and Harlem-choir backing vocals, “River Lea” has the singer intoning “Everybody tells me it’s ’bout time that I moved on/And I need to learn to lighten up and learn how to be young”. And the drum ’n’ bass soft soul of “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” features the lines “We’ve gotta let go of all of our ghosts/We both know we ain’t kids no more”.
Throw in the way that nearly every song seems obsessed with the one that not only got away, but left a trail of emotional carnage behind, and you’ve got a record that makes Morrissey sound like the happiest man on planet Earth. Who among us can’t relate to “All I Ask” where, backed by little more than sombre piano Adele does everything but unleash a torrent of tears while singing “So why don’t we just play pretend/Like we’re not scared of what’s coming next/Or scared of having nothing left”.
And all of this brings us back to the question of who 25 is for. Perhaps a good way to look at the record is as a sign that Adele is—despite all evidence to the contrary—every bit as human as the rest of us.
She’s evidently got plenty to work out in her personal life. And if you’re going to work things out, better to do that in a majestically rendered collection of ornate, flawlessly sung soul-pop songs than on the therapist’s couch.
So ultimately 25 is for her. And it’s also for you.
As you continue to try and make sense of that relationship going hopelessly sideways, cue up the synth-soaked R&B number “Water Under the Bridge” and sing along to “This is never-ending, we have been here before/But I can’t stay this time ’cause I don’t love you anymore.”
The world might not understand your pain but, based on 25, Adele does. And that's good to hear.