Release Date: Nov 20, 2015
Record label: Sony Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Adele's 2011 blockbuster, 21, was all about turning pain into power. Four years and 30 million albums sold later, remorse is still her muse. But where 21 was the sound of a woman soldiering through bad romance, 25 finds her queenly and resolute, lamenting the past on songs with titles like "Water Under the Bridge" and "When We Were Young." Even "Hello" is a goodbye.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Just last year, at 25, I realized, for the first time, that I was going to die. Out of nowhere, my breath was snatched and mind was seized by a panic-inducing epiphany; one minute I was watching a nature documentary, the next, realizing that someday, I was going to die. Of course, it's something we as humans are all aware will happen to each of us eventually, but the sombre truth never held much weight before.
The somewhat notorious New York film critic Armond White has a theory. Like many of his beliefs, it is one that he is vehemently serious about; namely that nobody under the age of 30 should be a film critic, 'because before that you don’t know enough about art, you don’t know enough about life'. It’s the sort of seemingly contrarian statement that White is known – and oft reviled – for, the kind of thing you read and scoff at but then you hit that age and accept that the guy has a point.
Anticipation’s a bitch. For Adele, whose bajillion-selling 21 (okay, not a bajillion, but 30 million worldwide) proved emotional exorcism is its own commercial reward, how do you return to such raw nakedness and not implode? For 25—both stripping back and unleashing gospel choirs, thick arrangements, large bass beats—juxtaposition is as much a device as contrast heightens the dizzying emotional cliffs Adele flies over like some graceful reindeer high on magic corn. Because for all the bone-scraping honesty of Adele’s songs, the work with uber-producers Danger Mouse, Greg Kurstin and Max Martin as well as 19 and 21 producers Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder, and the Oscar for “Skyfall,” in the end, there is that voice and what she does with it.
Adele draws droves of music lovers with her ballads, and her latest single, "Hello," is even more magnetic than her ubiquitous 2011 hit "Someone Like You." Indeed, the British pop-soul queen's latest plaintive chart topper—which serves as the opening track for her third album, 25—has a chorus that soars higher, lyrics of dashed love that dig deeper, and a production quality that's infinitely more textured than the deliberately sparse piano accompaniment of "Someone Like You." .
The lead single from Adele's new album, 25, is nearly a parody of how we'd expect the singer to sound. "Hello" is this breathy, dramatic arrangement, produced to suit ballroom chops. Never mind that Adele's authority is exclusively vocal, and that all the pianos, upright basses, and synth string sections in the world would relegate to obscurity against the wattage of her voice.
Adele is only 27 years old, still young by any sensible metric, but much of 25, her third album, concerns itself with the passage of time: the inevitable accumulation of both years and vantages. It’s as if she knows intimately the nauseating experience of waking up one morning, surveying a half-lived life, and thinking, "Oops." She never adopts a schoolmarm’s consternation (and she is entitled to some authority, having sold a boggling 30 million copies of her last record, 2011’s 21), but she is nevertheless cautionary, encouraging her listeners to do better, act faster, stop being such a bunch of clowns. Get up and get over, friend, she seems to be saying—you are a grown person now.
When Adele threatened to ignite rainfall at the crest of her world-conquering sophomore album, 21, it was a credible threat; the singer was on fire to a degree that numbers suggest we may never see again. 21 would spend more weeks at #1 in the UK than any album by a solo female musician — good for Guinness page space — besting every competitor in sales in both the year of its release, 2011, and the year after that. It today sits behind the Beatles’ Sgt.
Adele called out "Hello?" and the world answered with hundreds of millions of YouTube views and practically impossible-to-live-up-to expectations for 25, the singer's first album in almost five years. Rather than picking up where 2011's 21 left off, 25 ushers in a new era for Adele — one that hears her sounding stronger, more assured and, well, older. A far cry from the glitzy, good-times-rollin' millennial pop of Taylor Swift's 1989 (another record emphatically about being a woman in her mid 20s), Adele opts for maturity here — a process perhaps expedited by motherhood, and one resulting in recurring themes of forgiveness ("Water Under the Bridge") and moving on ("Send My Love (to Your New Lover)").
Autobiography is baked into Adele's art. She called her first album 19, naming it after her age at the time of writing, and like a musical, millennial Michael Apted, each successive album represented another chapter in her life's story. Fueled by heartbreak, her roiling 2011 record 21 ushered in her adulthood and superstardom, two acts that were instrumental in the creation of 25, the 2015 album purportedly documenting her mid-twenties.
It’s not often an artist is faced with the daunting task of following up one of the most successful albums in popular music history. Adele’s 2011 smash 21 has sold in excess of 30 million copies worldwide and turned Adele into one of the most revered icons in pop music today. Her powerhouse voice, the stripped-down and soulful arrangements and terrific songs like “Rolling in the Deep”, “Set Fire to the Rain”, “Rumour Has It” and “Someone Like You” are destined to be remembered years and decades from now when music historians look back at the best and most culturally significant works of our time.
It’s all about the River Lea. Anyone wanting 25 to pack as much of a punch as 21 did – or, for that matter, 19, Adele’s debut – should skip past the wobbly-lower-lipped piano ballads and the one kiss-off, and head straight to River Lea, track seven of this most anticipated of post-hit comebacks. Nestled among all the oaky, wistful songs in which Adele is elegantly conflicted about the past, is a gospel-tinged ode to a canalised east London rivulet.
In reality, ‘25’ could’ve been anything. A nine hour techno mix; an album composed entirely of dog noises, a spiritual successor to My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ – its predecessor ‘21’ sold so many copies, and the anticipation for a follow-up was so fevered, that Adele could’ve recorded literally whatever she fancied and it still would’ve been in about a zillion stockings come Christmas time. That’s not to say this isn’t the record Adele wanted to produce: the hundreds of studio sessions and extent to which ‘25’ has been agonised over shouldn’t be under-estimated.
It only seems five minutes ago that Adele Adkins was just another teenage singer/songwriter, following in the footsteps of Lily Allen and Kate Nash, singing songs about London and boy, having a mouth like a sailor and singing backing vocals for Jack Peñate (remember him?). It was, in fact, 8 years ago that we first heard those plaintive piano chords of Hometown Glory, and in that time Adele has become arguably the biggest British pop star we currently have: holding so much sway in fact that she can quite easily demand her album not be available on any streaming platforms, thus forcing people who want to hear it to actually – shock, horror – buy it. Even Taylor Swift eventually succumbed to the might of Apple Music.
In her first proper interview in over four years, the now 27-year-old Adele Adkins recently told a journalist from i-D, “Life is so much easier when you don’t hoard your past.” It’s a fairly potent statement coming from someone who has essentially built her stadium-sized career out of doing that very thing. Over the course of three albums Adele, the gazillion-selling British phenomenon, has proven herself to be the queen of romantic rumination — dissecting, articulating, and gloriously amplifying her own heartbreak in ways that, quite literally, make the whole world weep. At the time of the interview, the suggestion that her new album, the just-released 25, might shake off some of her melancholy and melodrama was an intriguing one.
There’s something curiously irrelevant about reviewing Adele’s third studio album. The astonishing sales of its first single, Hello, suggest that global success on a scale unseen since the last time Adele released an album is already a foregone conclusion. The public seems even less interested in critical opinion than usual, if such a thing is possible.
In 2012, Saturday Night Live flawlessly captured the extraordinarily broad appeal of Adele's 21 with a sketch in which guest host Emma Stone and most of the cast proved powerless to the catharsis of having a good cry while listening to the singer's hit “Someone Like You” and eating a pint of ice cream. It's not unlike the experience of reviewing Adele's music, which can feel all but critic-proof, requiring the writer to steel themselves against the inevitable wave of latent emotions triggered by the lyrics' heart-tugging, universal themes of loss and loneliness. To wit, “Hello,” the lead single from the U.K.
How in the world was Adele ever supposed to follow up a record like 21? The short answer is that she couldn’t. 21 was one of the most overt and unapologetic break-up records ever produced. It was the beautifully orchestrated representation of her actual real-world pain at the moment she wrote and recorded it. It also took hold of the zeitgeist to a nearly Thriller or Nevermind-level degree.
Few albums in recent memory have been as anticipated as the third release from Adele Adkins. Since backing up a truck at the Grammys to haul away all the trophies earned by her 2011 sophomore album, the 11-times-platinum “21,” and scoring an Oscar for her theme to the James Bond film “Skyfall,” her fans — and likely restless executives at her record company, eyeing the fourth-quarter balance sheet — have been hungering for more from the British songstress. That anticipation is richly rewarded by the sublime “25.” The album kicks off with first single “Hello” — a bit of windswept, skyscraping, rainy-day grandeur — and lingers in the neighborhood of that contemplative mood for much of the album’s duration.
Adele's new album is "25." Adele's new album is "25." When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that “It was just like a movie / It was just like a song,” she’s probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. This is a modal window.
A star-studded list of impressive credits provide the backbone of Adele Adkins’ third album: Tobias Jesso Jr, Max Martin, Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Bruno Mars, Greg Kurstin…it’s almost an embarrassment of (pop) riches. Add no less than twelve different recording studios to the mix and you have very much the quintessential DNA of what a 21st-century pop record is. In many ways 25 is the sound of Adele crystalising her talent and appeal in line with her audience.
WHAT DID your version of twenty-one look like? Whatever dorm room, dive bar, or lecture hall you spent it in, it probably looked nothing like Adele Laurie Blue Adkins’ version of 21. As one of the preeminent vocal talents of her generation, Adele’s early twenties consisted of sold-out Wembley shows and one half of an EGOT. This astronomical success reveals the paradox in the naming scheme for Adele’s trilogy of albums.
Absence has a way of ossifying an idea and amplifying a legend. Those have been gifts for Adele, who has just returned after a break of almost five years with her third album, “25” (XL/Columbia). Her place in pop music held steady as she retreated from the spotlight, toward a more nourishing life that includes motherhood. And time has fixed the idea of Adele’s sound, leaving a brightly blinking beacon for her to return to.
"This is never ending, we've been here before," Adele sings on "Love in the Dark," the most traditional-sounding track on her new, tradition-bound album, "25" (Columbia). After selling 30 million albums worldwide, as Adele did the last time out with "21," there isn't a great deal of incentive to shake things up. So Adele does what Adele does best on what is being billed by some hype-stirrers as the year's (the century's?) most anticipated album.
Yet you just can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is just far too safe. You can’t blame team Adele for following a formula that has so far resulted in 30 million album sales – but here’s to a little more innovation on ‘29’..
In April 2011, Adele did her first cover interview for Rolling Stone Magazine. Her face on the front was refreshing: messy hair, simple make-up, her eyes staring straight into the lens. Her look said, powerfully, Babe, you can't fuck with this. The piece began joltingly, too, in a Hamburg park with her dog.
Adele Adkins is one of those magnetic performers who could make your tax bill sound appealing by singing it, but on her third album her songwriting rarely equals the dynamism of her big, bluesy voice. 25 is a clear attempt to cash in on the success of its mega-selling predecessor by dealing in heartbreak. Befitting that backward look, her primary inspiration is memory.