No one needs a slavering report describing every bang and swoop of Adele’s third album from the perspective of a first listen. The record is available in shops and ready to download as of today (although it is not on streaming services yet), it would take just as long to click on the buy button as it would to sift through a mess of words explaining in detail the trip you’re about to take anyway.
That said, there are a few interesting questions fans might want answered before parting with their money, so that’s what we’ve done (after several intense listens and a long lie down):
Has she cheered up at all?
Nope. Not a bit. It seems there was an attempt to write the album about the joy of new motherhood and being settled in her relationship, but she decided that record was boring and scrapped it.
Do the songs reflect her current state of mind?
Not personally, no. As a singer whose voice naturally tends towards melancholy and violent introspection, Adele has returned to mining her darkest moments and strongest insecurities in order to write songs. So there are a lot of things ending sadly and a lot of lonely moments, because that is what people have come to expect from an Adele album.
Really? Nothing happy in there at all?
Well, there is “Sweetest Devotion,” the sole track she wrote with Paul Epworth (with whom she wrote “Rolling in the Deep”). That really is a song of intense love and contentment, and it ends the album on a more hopeful note. It’s still dramatic as hell, of course, Adele is many things, but she’s no Pharrell Williams.
Will it make me cry?
Yes. Had Adele’s voice and lyrics ever been capable of rousing you to tears in the past, there are songs here that will do so again. Sobbing fans of that school of songwriting that offers support to you, the listener, in your darkest moments—y’know, like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “You’ve Got a Friend”—will probably well up during “Remedy” (co-written with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic). “Million Years Ago” is a Jacques Brel-style gallic lament mourning the passage of time, and they’re always worth a blub. And if your personal trigger is love gone bad, “Love in the Dark” will almost certainly do it.
Are there any major musical changes from 21?
Yes, a couple. It’s fair to say most people’s ideal musical backing for Adele’s voice is just one piano, played gracefully, and there are a couple of songs that offer just that. However, there are also several lush productions too. “I Miss You” is a particularly ghostly concoction, made of fussy drums and ghostly harmonies. And “River Lea” (co-written and produced by Danger Mouse) takes the same ethereal waft to spook up a gospelly ride through the past.
Are there any banjo freakouts or EDM excursions?
No. And this is something we should all be grateful for. The closest she gets to modern pop music is the sparkling “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” an old song she finished with pop genius Max Martin, which would sit very nicely on Taylor Swift’s 1989. That’s a good thing, of course.
Who else has she been working with, and can you tell?
The producer who Adele has credited with getting her sound together after an initial period of confusion is Greg Kurstin. Amid abortive songwriting sessions with Kid Harpoon and one particularly unhelpful time with Damon Albarn (who dismissed her new music as “middle of the road”), he seems to have encouraged her to restate her core musical personality, which is that reflective, emotionally articulate person who is brutally honest about her mistakes and therefore free to point out the failings of others.
How middle of the road is it?
In a post guilty pleasures world, MOR is no bad thing, and certainly if you miss the close genetic links between Badfinger/Harry Nilsson’s eternal “Without You” and Adele’s “All I Ask,” it’ll only be because you’re thinking of Barry Manilow or Barbra Streisand. It was co-written with Bruno Mars, so that may explain a thing or two.
From listening to this, who actually is Adele in 2015?
The same Adele as she as always been. On record, her personality is remarkably constant. If her interviews were not so lively, if no one knew she was now happily married and a doting mother, and her personality was not so engaging in real life, you’d assume she was still pining after the fellow who broke her heart before 21 came out. Which is a curious thing, given that part of the appeal of those earlier songs is that they appear to have been written honestly and in the moment. One definite mark against this record would be that it isn’t the record of her personal happiness she junked earlier in the process. That’s the album that is arguably more worthy of the name 25.
As 25 and 1989 are essentially the same album title, which album tells us more about what it’s like to be 25 in 2014/2015?
Let’s assume we believe both albums to be written honestly and from the heart. Taylor Swift’s is about putting your life together for the first time, making mistakes, working out who you are, what your reputation may be and plotting a course into the future. Adele’s is a trawl through past problems, past mistakes and an examination of the bruising impact of love. One speaks to an external life, the other internal, and both deal with the feelings of helplessness and impotence that reside under the arrogant shell of imperious youth. One is the optimism of morning, the other a long dark night of the soul.