The Good: Great voice, Some of the lyrics
The Bad: Duration, Repetition(!)
The Basics: 19 gave the world the music of Adele, but it's not an exceptional debut.
As I and the rest of the music-enthusiastic world eagerly await the release of the new Adele album 25, I thought it would behoove me to go back and listen to her debut, 19. I had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor with the music of Adele as I was traveling when 19 was struggling to find its audience and I asked a worker at a Barnes & Noble what they would recommend as I wanted a new album while I was on the road. They recommended 19 and I listened to a track or two and it just did not grab me. It took until my wife fell in love with Adele's music from 21 (reviewed here!) before I came back to Adele. I've spent the last day listening to 19 on pretty high rotation and my verdict is that Adele got lucky with getting her breakout album, 21.
19 is painfully repetitive, but features Adele's trademark impressive vocal range. It has some decent lyrics, but the instrumental accompaniment is unimpressive and lacks a hook. Adele's lone cover song, her version of "Make You Feel My Love," does not reinvent it in any interesting way to make it her own, but there are hints at her potential in the album.
With a dozen tracks clocking out at 43:41, 19 is very much the vision of Adele. Adele wrote six of the tracks, co-wrote five and has only one cover song on the debut album. She also played various guitars on four of the songs, celesta on one song and even the cowbell. Naturally, Adele provided the lead vocals for every song; the only creative credit she does not have any part of on 19 is the production.
In many ways, musically 19 is a banal light pop-rock album. The songs lack a strong hook and most are driven by guitar and piano, but three hours after the last time I listened to 19, none of the original songs are memorable. After eight listenings to the album over the last day, the fact that I don't feel I could recall a single tune from 19 (save the cover of "Make You Feel My Love," which I know from other musical artists and performers) is a severe detriment to my opinion of it. The music is, in many ways, indistinct.
What is distinct are the vocals of Adele. Adele sings powerfully and articulately. She is able to leap from dusky and lower registers to long, held notes in the soprano register on 19. She makes her vocals into the album's primary instrument and it is amazing.
Moreover, even on 19 Adele has something she wanted to say and she says it well. As one might expect from the very emotive Adele from their experiences with her radio-played songs off 21, on 19 Adele sings about relationships a lot. On "First Love," Adele sings about the dissolution of a young relationship and she executes it articulately with lines like "Forgive me first love, but I'm tired. / I need to get away to feel again. / Try to understand why, / Don't get so close to change my mind. / Please wipe that look out of your eyes, / It's bribing me to doubt myself; / Simply, it's tiring." ("First Love").
Furthermore, Adele wrote with quite a bit of angst on 19. When she sings "Why is it every time I think I've tried my hardest / It turns out it ain't enough? / You're still not mentioning love / What am I supposed to do to make you want me properly? / I'm taking these chances and getting nowhere / And though I'm trying my hardest you go back to her" ("Best For Last"), it is hard not to feel as tortured as the musical protagonist!
But, one of the big problems with 19 is that Adele is a young writer on the album. As a result, some of the songs are very short and to get them up to a reasonable length, the songs have so much repetition that they become incredibly tired. As well, rhymes like "I thought I knew myself, somehow you know me more / I've never known this, never before / You're the first to make out whenever we argue / I don't know who I'd be if I didn't know you / You're so provocative, I'm so conservative" ("My Same") are not as sophisticated as some of her others.
Ultimately, 19 is a pretty indistinct album that fails to sell the full range of Adele's talents. The best track on the album is probably "Could Shoulder," the low point is the very repetitive "Right As Rain."
For other women with powerful voices and great albums, please check out:
The Way If Feels - Heather Nova
Shine On - Sarah McLachlan
Emerald - Dar Williams
For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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