November 22, 2015

TEST SPIN: Adele — 25

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Adele enthralls. Lyrically, her music stuns despite being easily accessible, wrapping itself around its audience; you’re convinced that she’s singing about your life whether it’s “Turning Tables” or “He Won’t Go.” Her band is masterful in its ability to capture a sometimes loose and rhythmic, sometimes intensely iconic sound that cradles her vocals perfectly. And you need no reminder that her voice is a blues and soul masterpiece that could cut melt a heart back from stone.

19 and 21, taken together, draw a portrait of a blossoming artist. “Daydreamer,” the opening song of her first album, is beautiful in a young and innocent kind of way. The gentle guitar trailing behind her as she sings about someone who “could change the world / With his hands behind his back” feels entirely too intimate to have been recorded for public consumption. Most of the album makes you feel like you’re peering around the edge of her bedroom door while she sits and sings to herself. And in moments when she hints at the future expansion of her sound, like the chorus in “Best for Last” and the harrowing story of “Hometown Glory” (Who in college hasn’t felt those oscillating twinges about where they used to live?), she sinks into your soul in a way in which you can’t really extricate her.

p. 6 arts adele“Rolling in the Deep” opened 21 impeccably. This was Adele — no — this was Adele growing up. The album is full of bigger everything: bigger swoops into the chorus, grander sound from the backup singers, a bolder rhythm section. The clapping sequences and wild voice breaks of “Rumour Has It” would have had no place in an older song like “Tired,” but it’s impossible not to see the way they lead into each other. Listening to “Take it All,” you can still hear her singing to herself in her room in a bout of hopelessness before she brought the material to her band.That being said, there’s a quality to the music — and especially to her voice — that marks the most notable change. I could listen to these songs for days and never know quite how to generalize what range of sound I’m hearing. The sound that flashes in songs like “I’ll Be Waiting” is timeless and comforting as a big-band flashback. But in another way, a song like “Someone like You,” the introduction of which sounds so much like One Republic’s “Secrets” and confuses me every time, builds this mass of despair in your throat that just makes you want to curl up and whimper in your bed with the curtains drawn.

These two albums are still powerful in your memories and huge in your ears and deep in your soul each time you listen to them. And hearing how much her sound evolved from the first to the second, I was altogether too excited to hear the third. The world fell on its knees to worship “Hello” when Adele released it in late October. You probably loved it. I loved it: the pianist digging into every chord, the desolation left in all the empty musical space you wish was filled with some breath of hope. We held our breath for Friday’s release of the full album. I asked to review it confident that I would love it even more than her first two. And after all this buildup, I just don’t want to say it. But here it is: there’s something about 25 that catches at me, but there’s also something about it that I can’t hold on to.

Nothing about this album evokes the word bad. Her voice is as luxurious as ever, her backup singers lend immense talent to the depth of her sound and the rest of her band excels at creating an atmosphere that envelops you inescapably as you listen. I’ve already memorized half of her lyrics and am singing along to “Water Under the Bridge” as I type this out. But while these songs are as all-encompassing and as accurate as ever, put together they fall short of something that she had in her previous album. Her lyrics wax beautifully honest with “If I’m not the one for you / You’ve gotta stop holding me the way you do” and “We’ve gotta let go of all our ghosts / We both know we ain’t kids no more,” but then they fall into patterns. First you hear “We’re living worlds apart,” then you wait a few more songs and hear “we’re oceans apart.” And it matters. Even if she wasn’t ever crafting strikingly unique set of lyrics, there was enough room for air between her songs that you wouldn’t be distracted by what she was singing from one to the next.

Don’t get me wrong — I love listening to each of these songs and there’s something that grips me in each of them: the way that “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” harkens back to the burgeoning sass in “My Same” and the lone-ranger image evoked in “Million Years Ago.” But if I listen to it as an album, and especially if I listen to it closely as an album, something just sounds off. “All I Ask” pulses emotionally but feels like it could be the background to a Lifetime movie. “Maybe it’s because she didn’t go through a big breakup while recording,” my friend suggested to me last night. I’m not sure if that’s it; after all, I still consider “Hometown Glory” one of her best songs. But something is undeniably different here. Now, it’s almost as if I’m listening to Adele trying to sound like Adele.

She started recording this album at the age of 25, and maybe it’s just a matter of having to grow into it. After all, I didn’t think that 21 was such a masterpiece until I was actually in college. So although I can’t say incredible things about this album now, I have a lot of faith in Adele and even in 25. She’s captivated me before, and I feel sure that she will again. It might just take some more time before I can follow along.

Jessie Weber is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].