21

With Adele looking set to continue her reign as queen of the album charts, this is as good a time as any for me finally to get around to knocking up a review of 21, her second album.

21 has already helped Adele set a number of records – the first living artist since the Beatles to have two singles and two albums in the chart at the same time, taking Madonna’s record of topping the album charts for the longest consecutive number of weeks by a female artist, and one of the fastest selling albums of all time, taking just 87 days to reach the 2m mark. Clearly albums don’t sell as many as they used to, but in a falling market, when it’s easier for new albums to come along and take top slot, to sell more copies of one album than anyone else for 13 of the last 14 weeks (including 11 in a row) is a remarkable achievement. And remember that Madonna’s Immaculate Conception was a greatest hits collection put out by an artist at the height of her power and after some years of making huge hits worldwide. Adele’s current European (and shortly US) tour promoting the album is a complete sell out, with venues being hastily upgraded everywhere to take account of the demand of tickets. Adele is thus currently unstoppable – not bad for an absolutely down to earth kid from the Brits School and on only her second album, too. Good exposure via the Brits 2011 has no doubt helped – but the talent is absolutely there to support the hype.

I have to say I wasn’t really that taken with Chasing Pavements, the big hit from 19, her first album – it struck me as a little too self-consciously contrived. But the new album has me hooked. Despite the deployment of some unfortunately rather insipid backing vocals, not least on ‘Rolling In The Deep’, which do poor justice to Adele’s strident, confident vocal, this is a thumping and cohesive production – some effort given the number of recording locations and different producers that have had a hand in it. Add on top of that a set of strong, original and self-penned songs dealing with love and relationships (‘heartbroken soul’, as Adele describes it), a collection of very capable musicians including the great Pino Palladino on bass and, bestriding it all, Adele’s hugely confident, bluesy, soulful voice, capable of soaring high yet also as apparently cracked with cigarettes and alcohol as that of blues singers twice her age, this is a terrifically put together work. Her diction is occasionally idiosyncratic, but the emotions on display are gravel raw, exposed and painful. At its best, this is a collection of great torch songs, most notably the singles which bookend the album but also ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ (actually the first song I heard from it), and one or two others which are capable of putting you utterly through the emotional wringer. Even so, there is also a shrewd pop sensibility here, rooted in a contemporary musical approach which make her out stand out from the rest of the crowd, and which mark Adele Adkins out as no one trick pony as well as a fine, rapidly maturing talent.

As close as I’ve yet come to a five-star review. It’s really that good.

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