Track-by-track review of 25 by Adele (3 stars)

Album Review: 25 by Adele - Track-By-Track

Sure, she can sing, but will she ever stop going on about that guy?

It’s hard to disapprove of Adele. She speaks her mind, sings about what’s important to her, has a voice like a demon and knows the value of introducing the personal to pure pop. But of course, she sells millions, so she’s no stranger to fawning. Her third album will sell bucketloads, but in its dragging out of supposedly autobiographical concerns which her real life appears to have moved on from – she’s 27, not 25, adding a layer of unintentional artifice – old ground is partly retrodden.

‘Hello,’ she sings in a moody baritone, and we await the line ‘…is it me you’re looking for?’ Sadly for Lionel Richie’s pension fund, the multiple international number one and first song to achieve over a million downloads in a week isn’t a cover. It does retread past emotions, though, as the in-a-relationship mother of one rechannels the failed love which inspired her last two albums. The voice is typically mighty, the piano backing modest, and the sentiments when she asks if he ever made it ‘out of that town where nothing ever happened’ are hauntingly real. But, you know… is she still going on about the guy?

Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
Now, you see, the title of this song suggests the maudlin awaits once more, but it’s a much more likeable take on breaking up and moving on. ‘Gotta let go… we both know we ain’t kids no more,’ she sings over a uniquely catchy backing of simple guitar line and vaguely discernible afro groove. The polished production at once stifles the best of her voice and offers a bit of sonic variety.

I Miss You
Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ meets a frostily epic chillwave production. Despite the theme of missing a lover it’s proper sex music, not least when she gets into a building, call and response ‘harder, baby’ near the end. Those drums, though; tumultuous and satisfying. One of long-time collaborator Paul Epworth’s two production credits.

When We Were Young
Listeners to her last two records and up to this point on the current one will be aware that Adele’s voice sounds best when it’s got the least going on behind it; production dulls the edges. So on this ballad she sounds great once more, but there’s a sense of the interchangeable, as with many of her other songs. It’s left to the lyricism of it to save her, and in her teary appraisal of young love as being ‘just like a movie’, there’s something simple and universal for listeners to connect with.

Again – great voice, simple piano, but this time a cornier lyric about wanting to be ‘your remedy… when the pain cuts you deep.’ We suggest morphine might work better.

Water Under the Bridge
‘I hate the idea of being free,’ sings Adele near the start of this glistening piece of synthetic soul, and the suggestion of serial monogamy explains a lot about her regular lyrical concerns. It’s very catchy, albeit in that bland, designed-for-radio fashion, which probably means we’ll hear a lot more of it. Not a highlight, all told.

River Lea
‘Everybody tells me it’s about time I moved on.’ Dear god, yes. But hold on… Demonstrating the use of a good production job, Danger Mouse introduces something quite special to the usual gospel-meets-West End-meets-confessional dynamic. She’s singing about herself, not of how she feels about some man or other. ‘I’m scared to death if I let you in you’ll see I’m just a fake / sometimes I feel lonely in the arms of your touch.’ YES. More of this, please.

Love in the Dark
‘I can’t love you in the dark / it feels like we’re oceans apart,’ she belts out, and once again it’s just Adele, the piano, a few strings sweeping away in the background, and a pure sadface relationship that needs ditching fast. It’s a Battlestar Galactica ballad; all of this has happened before, and will happen again.

Million Years Ago
Oh, much better. A touch of really subtle, almost flamenco-style guitar, harmonised hums, and Adele’s voice, smoky and sure of itself. The chorus is all her own, but might we suggest there’s a hint of Amy Winehouse throughout? A stand-out, because it dares to bust out of her usual formula.

All I Ask
‘This is my last night with you… give me a memory I can use.’ Okay, now this is where the piano/voice/getting dumped formula comes into its own. The vocals are acrobatic, flipping between power and vulnerability, and the piano traces her voice with dynamism and sympathy. The collision of understatement and gusto works well.

Sweetest Devotion
Epworth is back, and this is another highlight, a sweeping, gospel-style epic with a hint of a country twang to the rough-edged guitars and her sweet ‘woo-hoos’. The song sounds fulsome and easy on the ear, but it says much about this record that it’s one of the few instances where she celebrates love rather than mourns it. In the latter stages of 25 there are strong hints that her range can go far beyond gloom, and it’s a shame she didn’t grasp the opportunity more.

25 by Adele is out now on XL.

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