Columbia Records, 2011
By Quinton Saxby
Adele is a powerhouse and a prodigy, and her new album 21 showcases her purely natural talent. Finding real talent is always a noteworthy and rare experience, because it’s very hard for an artist to be already so well-developed and aware of her aesthetic bent. This is why Adele’s rise to fame has been such a great event—she managed to make her own brand of pop-soul music accessible to audiences before the age of 20.
Her debut album, 19, gained a lot of recognition and critical acclaim as one of the best albums of 2008 from one of the youngest singers in the music industry. Adele’s voice belies her age, and at 19 she managed not only to gain critical recognition for her prodigious talent, but also accolades for some risky and interesting artistic choices. She covered Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” from his 1997 album Time Out of Mind—quite a feat for this British amateur vocalist who had a year before posting her first song on Myspace. Seasoned vocalists would certainly think twice before even thinking about covering Dylan, but Adele made the move, confident in her status as a natural-born vocalist and throwing caution to the wind.
Adele’s new album, 21, has already garnered a lot of attention, and for good reason—Adele is one of the most naturally gifted vocalists to have hit pop music charts in the past couple of years, with a resonant and powerful voice light years ahead of the common stock of vocalists in contemporary pop music. Listeners know a real voice when they hear one, and Adele is rapidly winning recognition for just this reason.
Listening to the album, one can hear that Adele electrifies the studio. Her voice cuts through any and all layering to come out in all its beauty and splendor, pure and radiant. She works in a strange pop-soul hybrid genre—which works, in all its retro, 1960s glory. Her voice is sultry yet clear. Unlike Amy Winehouse, a voice akin to this much younger soul protégé’s, Adele’s music has more earnestness and less bitter irony. This earnestness might be repellent for some—the lyrics don’t have enough bite for those looking for real, spiteful break-up ballads.
But this is a small issue, and Adele is a natural talent whose voice goes far beyond her experience. This album has enough strength to produce more than a couple real hits. “Rolling in the Deep” has true, dramatic impact and replay value. It is an addictive song and can be listened to on repeat for an extensive period of time. This song offers enough in both composition and vocals to be one of the strongest of the year, and as an album opener it cannot be beat.
“Rolling in the Deep” may be the closest to perfection the album comes, but the rest of the album stands the test and feels like a steady stream of hits (which they very well could be). The production value of 21 is amazing—a solid horn section, backup singers who can keep up with Adele’s intimidating and breakthrough vocals, and Adele’s voice itself, which needs absolutely no reverb.
The phenomenon of Adele is a case in point of the fact that talent and age are independent of one another: We know a prodigy when we hear one, and Adele proves in spectacular fashion that she understands soul acutely,and that she has it at the young age of 21.