Some singers shoot for critical reception; others for commercial success. Some aim for none, some for both… and then there’s Adele. The British sensation—officially Adele Laurie Blue Adkins MBE (yes, she’s an order of the British empire now), literally started from the bottom. Born in Tottenham, U.K., and raised by a single mother, Adele has since sold over 30 million albums worldwide and won more awards than could possibly fit on the mantelpieces of her extensive property portfolio across the world.
Her previous two albums, 19 (2008) and the ever-infamous 21 (2011)—now one of the best selling albums of all time—catapulted her to what could be argued as the pinnacle of the 21st century music industry thanks to her simple but universal songs. However, despite their unparalleled success, both albums suffered from cases of filler and mediocre ballads, and unfortunately, 25 simply delivers more of the same.
Beginning with the chart-topping, Vevo-record-breaking lead single, “Hello,” Adele sets the premise for what is ultimately an album of apologies: Apologies to an ex-lover (“All I Ask”), to an ex-friend (“When We Were Young”), and to her younger self (“Million Years Ago”). She’s also sad, reminiscing on both her past friendships (“Hello”), and she’s mad about growing older (“River Lea”).
It’s a neat concept—Adele imagining the conversations she envisions herself having in the future with people she predicts she’ll grow apart from—but even over a mere 11 tracks, her apologies grow as thin as the heartache she wallowed in on 21. There are bright moments—moments of utter brilliance and clear examples of a more daring and exciting musical direction that she could have taken this record in. The stunning Jessie Ware-esque “Water Under the Bridge”—easily one of her finest songs—mixes pulsing beats and galloping drums that escalate to a crescendo finale with a backing choir, raising the song to an almost gospel level. Despite the plodding name, the sun-kissed “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” is the simplest and most carefree that Adele has sounded on record with a bubbling guitar and clapping supporting her surprisingly upbeat vocals, and “When We Were Young” is a moving nod to a life she once lived.
Elsewhere, though, the songs drag tremendously. “Remedy” is a faceless ballad about yet another ex-lover, while somewhere during the album’s back half—when “Love In the Dark” unnoticeably becomes “Million Years Ago," the underwhelming finale, “Sweetest Devotion,” comes to a close—and 25 is simply over. There is no tongue-in-cheek “Rumour Has It” equivalent; definitely no beautiful-restraint that was “Make You Feel My Love,” and nothing that comes close to the heartbreaking levels of “Someone Like You.” And while it would be unfair to expect another 21—she certainly would have been critiqued if she had merely replicated its sound—for a singer who rests on her emotional appeal, 25 falls heartbreakingly flat.
There is no doubt that Adele is unprecedently talented, and that she has one of the most powerful, unique, and recognizable voices that have shaken the music industry in the past decade. 25 will sell an unimaginable amount of albums in its first week—sales are currently being forecasted as being a record-breaking 2.9 million, and will thus most certainly allow Adele to grace the stage of the 2017 Grammys to pick up some coveted awards. Despite this, there's the nagging feeling that, on 25, she's played it a tad too safe. Aside from the aforementioned standout tracks—as well as the fantastic, 50s-esque "Why Don't You Love Me" on the deluxe edition of the album—25 sees neither vocal nor lyrical progression from 21, allowing itself to get dragged down relentlessly by the soggy piano ballads that Adele too-often falls back on. It’s a shame; “Send My Love” and “Water Under the Bridge” are glimpses into the more daring, upbeat, and ‘fun’ side of Adele. But as it stands, Adele should not only be apologizing to her former lovers and friends on 25, but to the music industry—heck, the world—for delivering another middle-of-the-road record.
“Hello,” “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” & “Water Under the Bridge”
“If you’re not the one for me / Why do I hate the idea of being free?”
An off-peak Adele and gospel-turned Jessie Ware