The Good: Amazing vocals, Moments of musical accompaniment
The Bad: Short, Some particularly stale rhymes, Lack of distinctive, memorable tunes.
The Basics: 25 is the epitome of ambitious average albums where Adele's voice is used as a medium for mediocre lyrics and songs that lack the instant impact and memorability of 21.
After the success of Adele's album 21 (reviewed here!), Adele had a near-impossible task that very few artists are ever stuck with. With the dramatic success of 21, Adele faced the classic artist's dilemma of creating a follow-up album that either went in a new direction - potentially alienating her massive new fanbase - or simply giving listeners "more of the same," which had the potential of making listeners believe that she truly had given everything to her prior album. 25 seems to attempt to find its own balance - the vocals are exactly what one might expect from Adele, the instrumental accompaniment is supportive but none of the songs are particularly catchy - with mixed results; the writing does not seem nearly as sophisticated as on 21.
25 is, objectively, probably the best listeners could have expected of new music from Adele, especially given that the album is essentially a theme album. 25 is an album featuring songs of sadness, longing and loss and Adele delivers them well. In fact, the listener is treated right off the bat to "Hello," which may well be the best stalker song since "Every Breath You Take." But 25 pretty rapidly falls into indistinct melodies, many of which are overproduced, that use Adele's clear, powerful voice to deliver some truly cringeworthy lyrics.
With eleven songs, clocking out at 48:25, 25 appears to be the album Adele intended to make. Adele co-wrote all of the songs and provides lead vocals on each track. As well, she plays percussion instruments on three songs; the only major credit she does not appear to get on 25 is producing and each track seems to have a different producer, which might be one of the reasons the album (outside thematically) does not seem to come together.
The sound of 25 is piano and orchestra-driven. While the instrumental accompaniment includes synths and the occasional guitar, the overall tempo of 25 is more slow than it is poppy. More than that, none of the songs truly have memorable tunes. I am convinced that outside "Hello," there is not a single song from 25 I could hear a muzak version of again (even tomorrow) and recognize it from the album I just listened to on heavy replay.
Vocally, Adele is, predictably, amazing on 25. Adele's voice has amazing range and she has pretty incredible lung capacity. So, while she holds notes for a long time and articulates her lines over multiple registers, listeners start 25 with the expectations set high based on Adele's known abilities. She meets those expectations, but there are no pleasant vocal surprises on 25. On "River Lea," Adele's vocals seem much more produced than any of her other tracks, which is unfortunate given the amazing quality of her natural voice.
Lyrically, 25 is very much consumed with expressing loss and longing. Songs like "Water Under The Bridge" express a level of angst that is pretty universal. When Adele sings "It's so cold out here in your wilderness / I want you to be my keeper / But not if you are so reckless / If you're gonna let me down, let me down gently / Don't pretend that you don't want me /Our love ain't water under the bridge" ("Water Under The Bridge"), it is hard not to empathize with her sentiments.
Much of 25 seems preoccupied with roads not taken and the loss of potential, which is an interesting - or compelling, at least - subject for an album. And Adele and her co-writers have a lot to say about the subject. The album is not wholly depressing, though. With lines like "No river is too wide or too deep for me to swim to you / Come whatever, I'll be the shelter that won't let the rain come through / Your love, it is my truth / And I will always love you" ("Remedy") Adele offers love as a solution to so many of the worst things one might experience!
All that said, the writing on 25 is not the best to come out of anyone writing music over the last twenty years ago. The problem with Adele's amazing vocals is that the listener can hear each and every word perfectly. That means they can hear rhymes like "I want every single piece of you / I want your heaven and your oceans too . . .Then kiss me back to life to see / Your body standing over me" ("I Miss You"). Between that and the repetitive quality of some of the songs, there are some seriously lazy writing attempts on 25.
Ultimately, 25 is not a bad album; it has its moments, its highs and lows and it averages out. It is neither as extraordinary as 21 or as terrible as it could have been; the result is an album that feels like auditory coasting.
The best songs are "When We Were Young" and "Remedy," most of the rest of the album would rate as very average, underwhelming, songs.
For other music by powerful vocalists, please check out my reviews of:
Little Secret - Nikki Yanofsky
The Way It Feels - Heather Nova
Shadows - Lilly Wood And The Prick
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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