Adele became one of the most unexpected success stories of 2009, having upset favorites like Lady Antebellum and the Jonas Brothers for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards. Propelled by her two Grammy wins (she also won Best Female Pop Performance) and her appearance on Saturday Night Live in October 2008, Adele’s debut CD 19 went on to sell over 900,000 copies in the US and close to two million copies worldwide. Because of this success, all eyes were on Adele as she prepared to release her sophomore release 21 in early 2011. Thankfully, she exceeded all of those expectations with a CD that is light years beyond what most 21-year-olds could comprehend, much less produce.
Adele Rocks It Out
Lead single “Rolling In the Deep” kicks in with a driving beat that eggs on Adele’s vocal to a bluesy, soulful sound that wasn’t as prominent on 19. Second track “Rumour Has It” has a 60s influence that matches the best tracks by contemporaries Duffy or Amy Winehouse while still sounding contemporary and relevant. Some of the credit for this goes to producer Ryan Tedder, who brings some of his more unique instrument choices to the track. However, most of the credit goes to Adele’s voice, which can be husky and weathered on a track like “Rumour Has It,” but sharp and clear as a bell on “One and Only.”
Adele Remains True
Ryan Tedder also co-wrote “Turning Tables,” which harkens back to Adele’s first CD 19 in part due to producer Jim Abbiss. Even though “Turning Tables” sounds much like “Chasing Pavements,” the listener can still hear growth and maturity as Adele sings “Next time I’ll be braver/I’ll be my own savior/When the thunder calls for me.” Rather than asking how she should respond, Adele knows herself and how to proceed.
Another song that fits the power ballad model that many of Adele’s fans know and love is “Set Fire to the Rain,” produced by Fraser T. Smith. Much like his earlier work on James Morrison’s “Broken Strings,” Fraser T. Smith takes a song that would simply be a run-of-the-mill ballad in the hands of most producers and creates a smoldering track that seems to burn upon contact with Adele’s precise vocals. The restraint shown by Adele singing “Set Fire to the Rain” up until the end is impressive, considering that vocalists with less skill and ability would vamp every line of the song to compensate.
The Heart of the Matter
While you could break down how Adele has progressed sonically and vocally, it all comes down to the vulnerability and sincerity displayed in her music. The wounds are still fresh as Adele sings “Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you” in the song of the same name, and you know as well as she does that this might be true or this might be a brave face. Even on her cover of The Cure’s “Love Song,” Adele still brings her own context and perspective, giving a more sensitive delivery that is true to who she is.
No matter how you relate to the material, Adele taps into something that few singers ever achieve in their entire career, let alone by the time they reach their early 20s. To release a career-defining album with the class and sophistication of 21 that seems genuine and authentic is a testament to both the artist and the material. The musical world is Adele’s to explore, and those of us who count ourselves as fans will continue to be the winners as she continues to evolve.