Adele’s 25: Review and Breakdown

Adele’s highly anticipated new album (the first in four long years) hit shelves and digital catalogues around 11 p.m. on Thursday, November 19, an hour before it’s official release date of November 20.

The 11-track album was widely expected to provide a boom to the record industry’s year end figures, along the lines of Taylor Swift’s 2014 monster hit, 1989. Since it’s release, 25 has sold over 4 million copies in the US alone. The massive success of the album broke many records, including the single week record for any album since Nielson Soundscan began tracking sales in 1991. After it’s first week of sales, 25 became the best-selling album of the year and is currently the fastest selling album of the 21st Century .

Adele’s 25 serves as a follow up to 2011’s 21, an anomaly in the age of singles and digital streaming, which went 16x platinum in the United Kingdom and 11x platinum in the United States. The album went on to win six awards at the 2012 Grammys, including Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Record of the Year.

While it remains to be seen if 25 can reach the cathedral ceiling accolades heights of 21, sales and millions of fans around the globe suggest that the four years of anticipation were worth the wait.

“Hello” (Adele, Greg Kurstin)

The leading single and music video from 25 dropped on October 23 after teasing  a portion of the song’s intro on The X Factor. Having made the rounds already, there’s no real news here. The ballad and sepia-toned companion music video serve as a reflection on a past relationship – likely the glorious trainwreck that brought us 21. But unlike “Rolling In the Deep,” “Hello” is less about mourning a love lost and more about making things right with an old flame. It’s saturated with imagery and apologies, suggesting a need for closure. “I must of called a thousand times… to tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done,” she croons. The track, which has held onto the top spot on the iTunes charts since it’s release (and prevented Drake from scoring his first Billboard #1 single) is a welcome continuation of the power ballads of 19 and 21 and has earned a place next to “Chasing Pavements,” “Rolling in the Deep,” and “Set Fire to the Rain.”

“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” (Adele, Karl Johan Schuster, Max Martin)

This track is a noted departure for Adele and serves as the “popiest” track on the album. This makes sense, given the songwriting credit of Max Martin, the songwriter/producer extraordinaire behind some of modern pop’s biggest hits (see Britney Spears and Taylor Swift). While the track begins with the simple strumming of an acoustic guitar, it picks up quickly. It’s the most produced song on the album and the most likely to gain some serious radio play. It initially sounds odd to hear the British songstress’s timbre in a Swiftian arrangement. But the surprisingly chirpy chorus leads to a reflective return to the guitar, emphasizing two major theme of the album: aging and growth. “We’ve got to let go of all of our ghosts. We both know we ain’t kids no more,” Adele asserts. For devout fans of the soul-soaked 21, this track may take a few listens. But if history is any indication, the radio prospects of this track will assure that everyone will be hearing it a good bit in the coming weeks.

“I Miss You” (Adele, Paul Epworth)

Paul Epworth, cowriter of Adele’s Oscar-winning Bond theme, “Skyfall,” returns for this dark track simply begging for a Beyoncé cover. The song begins with the ghostly, muffled sounds of wailing/moaning that give way to the pounding of drums and lyrics evoking smoky memories of nighttime escapades. It’s easily Adele’s most sexy song to date. It pales in comparison to the overtly sexual themes and lyrics regular on FM radio (see Rihanna) but shares the dark, velvety seduction of Beyoncé’s “Partition.” Again, this is somewhat of new ground for Adele, whose success was built on the bones of heartbreak. A love song, albeit a dark and longing one, is refreshing for fans potentially weary of the abundance of lamenting records within Adele’s repertoire. “I want every single piece of you…cheat me soft but touch me cruel.” The chorus gets a bit repetitive with the “pull me in”s and the “hold me tight”s. Otherwise, “I Miss You” continues the success of the Epworth partnership and tackles more daring ground, complete with solid percussion and a bit of bewitching seduction.

“When We Were Young” (Adele, Tobias Jesso Jr.)

“When We Were Young” opens with a gentle piano and progresses to a mid-tempo reflective ballad exploring the glory days of an old love. The unchanged ex makes a reminiscent Adele evaluate her “restless… reckless” days. “It was just like a movie, it was just like a song,” she remembers. Background vocals provide a soft backdrop, evoking a choir-like vibe. Skimming across the easy piano and tame lyrics, however, lies a slightly spunky vocal performance: “My god, this reminds me of when we were young.” This is not the only track with some attitude, but it compliments a familiar theme with a fresh outlook from Adele: reflective but not somber.

“Remedy” (Adele, Ryan Tedder)

Break out the tissues. This one’s a doozy. Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic joins as welcome company on “Remedy.” If not for Adele’s soaring vocals, this song could easily be a beautiful lullaby. Even with the “umph,” one can imagine Adele singing this to her son Angelo. Clocking in at 4:05, “Remedy” isn’t the most lyrically complicated track on the album. But the relative simplicity of the track leaves ample room for interpretation. “When the pain cuts you deep, when the night keeps you from sleeping, just look and see, I will be your remedy.” The poignant message is easily applicable to lovers and mothers alike, serving as a love song in the most pure form – without kitsch: “Your love, it is my truth, and I will always love you.”

“Water Under the Bridge” (Adele, Greg Kurstin)

Kurstin returns for another collaboration after “Hello.” “Water Under the Bridge” is a “now or never” offer to a lover: “I want you to be my keeper, but not if you are so reckless. ” The song is actually a pretty good time. It’s not enough of a downer – even given the topic – to qualify as a heartbreak track. It has potential to get some decent radio play. Layered vocals during the chorus add a polished depth to a Phil Collinsesque, world music-tinged track.

“River Lea” (Adele, Brian Burton)

A haunting track, “River Lea” is Adele’s gospel tribute to the river of her childhood – the River Lea runs through the southern part of England, near London. Again, some decent percussion provides a nice foundation while an organ of some sort echoes in the background. “River Lea” explores some ghosts of Adele’s past – “it’s in my roots, in my veins, in my blood.” It’s a mature track, evoking something of a Lana Del Rey vibe. “River Lea” is another example of Adele adding depth to her singer-songwriter roots, branching out for a more developed, produced record.

“Love in the Dark” (Adele, Samuel Dixon)

An orchestra accompanies Adele on one of the more traditional tracks of the record. It’s a typical Adele song in content – “I don’t want to carry on like everything is fine… I’m trying to be brave, stop asking me to stay.” While “Rolling in the Deep” places the blame on the ex-lover of 21, “Love in the Dark” accepts responsibility for the “oceans apart.” The orchestra really shines here, adding an emotional depth to a goodbye song: “I want to live, and not just survive.” This is one of the better written songs on the album, exhibiting a real genuine growth since the days of 19.

“Million Years Ago” (Adele, Greg Kurstin)

The final Kurstin collab is a real throwback of sorts. The acoustic guitar twangs and is reminiscent of a Latin ballad, but the simple arrangement seems inherently British, almost like an oral ballad of a travelling bard passed down through generations. The lyrics are nostalgic and even contain a bit of regret. For Adele, a celebrity powerhouse that tends to prefer a distinctly private lifestyle in southern England, the song seems an ode to the price of fame: “I feel like my life is passing by, and I can do is watch and cry. I miss the air, I miss my friends, I miss my mother, I miss it when life was a party to be thrown, but that was a million years ago.” There’s a definite somber mood here, but a real gem of emotional, traditional songwriting, where Adele truly “bares her soul.”

“All I Ask” (Adele, Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Christopher Brody Brown)

No, theater buffs, this is not a Phantom cover. But pen a letter to Andrew Lloyd Webber and cross your fingers. Rather, “All I Ask” is a tear-jerker right up there with “Hello” and “Remedy.” Set against a beautifully recorded piano, “All I Ask” simply waltzes through speakers. It’s ripe for a ballroom scene in some drama that doesn’t deserve it. Painfully honest, “All I Ask” faces the end of a love with the request of one last embrace. This track could fit in comfortably in the Whitney Houston canon, complete with a powerful key shift. The track includes most likely the best lyrics on the album: “It matters how this ends, ‘cus what if I never love again?” Not safe for work, or anywhere where you must be a functional adult.

“Sweetest Devotion” (Adele, Paul Epworth)

The true anomaly of the album, “Sweetest Devotion” is downright joyful. It doesn’t seem exceptionally well-written, but this may be a result of the bar set by the sappy power ballads we crave. It is likely that Adele’s son serves as the inspiration for this track, which is the most rock-influenced song of the album. The verses are accompanied by a pleasant arrangement of guitar and percussion, creating a really rounded-out sound more typical of mainstream adult complementary charts. This track likely deviates the most from Adele’s singer-songwriter roots: nary a piano note is heard.

Overall, 25 is another hit for Adele. It explores new territory but retains some requisite Adele-ish ballads sure to ruin your morning commute or Saturday evening – in the best way, of course.

Adele will be touring both the UK and mainland Europe beginning in February 2016.

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