It seems like Amy Winehouse, no matter what you think of her, created the trend of British female soul singers on the US charts. Winehouse broke through first, and then tons of copy-cat singers emerged- Duffy, Kate Nash, and Adele, to name a few. When I first heard of the latter, I quickly dismissed her as yet another Winehouse clone.
I remember watching Saturday Night Live one evening and Adele was the musical guest. I was immediately blown away by her powerful vocals and brilliantly written and performed songs. Perhaps my judgment had been wrong? I bought her debut album 19 that same night, and realized that my prejudice against her had been incorrect.
I suppose at first glance, Adele looks like yet another UK import sent to the US to cash in on the latest British-invasion craze; however, she’s anything but. London-born Adele (whose full name is Adele Adkins) wrote her first song (which is included on this album) when she was only 16 years old. She was soon signed to a label and recorded her debut when she nineteen years old (hence the name of the disc). Her influences are Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald and it’s apparent in her sound- a mix of contemporary R&B, Motown, and gorgeous ballads all highlighted by Adele’s bold voice.
Daydreamer begins the album. The track is almost entirely stripped of production- simply acoustic guitar and Adele’s vocals make up the track. Let it be said that Adele is no Whitney or Mariah- she has a powerful voice, but I’ve never heard her do anything incredible. However, what she does have, is strong vocals and a wonderfully smooth tone. And to all of the Winehouse comparisons- now that I’ve actually listened to Adele myself- I’d honestly say Adele has the better voice. At least, hers is more appealing to listen to. Anyway, the opening track makes this apparent, and the song is a very nice beginning to the album.
The disc really kicks to a start with the lead single, Chasing Pavements. Adele starts off crooning, “I’ve made up my mind, don’t need to think it over. If I’m wrong, I am right, don’t need to look no further- this ain’t lust, I know this is love”, making way for a catchy love song. The soaring chorus is quite an ear-worm, and the breezy feeling of the song was what made it such a hit.
The next few songs on the album are just as strong. Cold Shoulder follows and is an upbeat track about being the “other girl” in a relationship. Adele’s witty lyrics give the song an extra punch (“You grace me with your cold shoulder/Whenever you look at me I wish I was her/You shower me with words made of knives/Whenever you look at me I wish I was her”) , and the soulful sound works extremely well. Meanwhile, Crazy For You, is a laid back song with more acoustic guitar. Adele mostly uses the track to show off her vocals, and the result is quite nice. She sounds absolutely beautiful during the track, calling to mind a mix of Patsy Kline and Aretha Franklin- if you can imagine such a thing.
One of my personal favorites on the album is Melt My Heart To Stone, a mid-tempo R&B track. Again, Adele’s vocals are dazzling, but it’s the heartbreakingly truthful lyrics (“And I hear your words that I made up/You say my name like there could be an us/I best tidy up my head-I’m the only one in love/I’m the only one in love”) that really get me every time . The topic of unrequited love is oft visited in music, but Adele puts an emotional and raw spin on it that makes my heart stop every time I listen to the song.
Speaking of emotionally performed songs- Adele’s cover of the Bob Dylan track Make You Feel My Love is one of the most passionate songs I’ve ever heard. Adele turns the song into a slow ballad, and sings it so fervently that you’ll want to stop whatever you’re doing just to listen. Lyrically, the song is a typical love ballad (“I could make you happy, make your dreams come true/Nothing that I wouldn’t do/Go to the ends of the Earth for you/To make you feel my love”) but it’s really Adele’s heart wrenching delivery that has made this song my favorite on the album. She conveys the feelings so perfectly- that desire to do anything for the person you love, the desire to love them more than anything else in the world. For those of us who have been there, the song will ring true, and for those who have yet to experience this kind of love, you’ll be longing to do so after hearing this song.
The album does, however, hit a few points of mediocrity. Best For Last is a pleasant enough song with another Motown-esque chorus, but definitely can’t compare to the more memorable songs on the album. First Love is another ballad with interesting lyrics (“Forgive me first love, but I’m tired/I need to get away to feel again/Try to understand why, don’t get so close to change my mind/Please wipe that look out of your eyes, it’s bribing me to doubt myself/Simply, it’s tiring.”), but is fairly uninteresting musically. Right As Rain does sound like a Winehouse song. It’s another upbeat track and the chorus is lively enough, but is forgettable in the long run. The same could be said of both Tired and My Same. I actually forget that both of the songs are included on the album until I’m listening to it. The former is a mid-tempo track with a singable chorus (“I’m tired of trying/Your teasing ain’t enough/Fed up of biding your time/When I don’t get nothing back/And for what, and for what, and for what/When I don’t get nothing back/Boy I’m tired”), but is again pretty pedestrian overall. The latter actually reminds me of Duffy (so I suppose the comparisons do have some warrant), but since I’m not too big a fan of Duffy, it’s not really a great thing. The song isn’t offensive in any way, and for that matter, none are the above mentioned tracks- they’re all listenable and fit in well with the flow of the album, but are basically nothing more than filler.
However, the album does end on a strong note with Hometown Glory. Musically, it starts off quietly with hushed piano and Adele’s vocals, and then builds up towards the end with a majestic string section being added in. The sound is, to sum up in one word- epic, and provides for a very dramatic end to the album. The lyrics are just as dynamic . Adele wrote the song at age 16, after her mother tried to persuade her to leave her hometown of London to go to college. In the track, Adele writes about the admiration she has for London (“I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque/I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades/I like it in the city when two worlds collide/You get the people and the government/Everybody taking different sides”), and the lyrics are so moving that even though I don’t feel as strongly about my hometown (Sacramento, California…enough said there), I have to sing along during the bridge as she sings “…shows that we ain’t gonna stand sh-t, shows that we are united, shows that we ain’t gonna take it”, with just as much ardent pride.
Adele has definitely proven that’s she deserves a spot in the music world. The songs that she wrote for 19 are all maturely written and performed, and she’s a standout among any of her musical contemporaries. I’ll be looking forward to her music for years to come, I’m sure.
2. Best for Last
3. Chasing Pavements
4. Cold Shoulder
5. Crazy for You
6. Melt My Heart to Stone
7. First Love
8. Right as Rain
9. Make You Feel My Love
10. My Same
12. Hometown Glory