How does one follow-up an album that sold 30 million copies worldwide and made you a global superstar? You go away for four years and hope that everyone forgets. That's exactly what Adele did following her massive record 21 but it seems nobody has forgotten her. The lead-single from 25, Hello has already smashed record worldwide and it looks like she may have an album on her hands poised to do the same thing.
Let's enter 25 together, track-by-track, step-by-step:
I’m not sure if even Adele’s team realised the genius of releasing this as the first single. It had just the right amount of cheese to work as an actual song and as a meme-enabler because of that brilliant opening line - “hello, it’s me.” In what is definitely a coincidence the song just happened to come out at the same time as Drake’s Hotline Bling - a song that says, “you used to call me on my cellphone.” All the while Adele is clutching a flip-phone.
It was the perfect climate for Adele to enter back into but it also helps that the song is absolutely massive. It’s perhaps the biggest Adele ballad ever. She sings with more strength, the instrumentation is bigger and the song asks more of her as a performer. It felt like the same old Adele, only she’d grown up and that’s why it’s the biggest selling song this year.
Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
Apparently this was the other contender to be the first single for the album but Adele decided it wasn’t a good representation of the album as a whole. She’s right, it’s not. It’s the album’s pop moment and it’s actually good to hear Adele at the hands of Max Martin. He contains that massive voice is the confines of a great pop melody and shows us a side that 21 failed to show.
Lyrically, it’s basically a sequel to Someone Like You. Adele has moved on and is basically blowing a kiss on her way. “I’ve forgiven it all, you set me free,” she sings which seems to be the premise for the album. It wouldn’t have been right as the first single but as the second track on the album it works beautifully.
I Miss You
This is only one of two Paul Epworth-produced tracks on the album which is surprising given that he was the man behind the massive Rolling In The Deep. What’s more surprising is that I Miss You is one of the few missteps on the album. Production-wise it feels like a weighty dark cloud drowned in production and unnecessarily heavy percussion. Adele is best when there is an element of rawness to it and when she’s too manicured it loses all feeling. The same could be said for 21’s Set Fire To The Rain which almost felt plastic it was so heavily produced.
The chorus just doesn’t hit the sweet spot melodically even though the verses are enough to get you there without anticipation. “I miss you when the lights go out,” she sings seemingly talking about her new partner. In that way it’s good to hear her on a different subject matter but it gets lost in the grand scheme of the album.
When We Were Young
I love the fact that Adele approached Tobias Jesso Jr. as a fan and the pair of them got on so well. The chemistry is perfect and you can tell because When We Were Young is just so perfect. One of the things 25 does so well is looks back on the past with the fear of getting older. It’s such a real and present thing that most go through and yet no one's ever really translated that musically. “I’m so mad, I’m getting old, it makes me reckless,” she sings in the final parts of the song hitting straight to the heart. Adele had a kid in her mid-20s meaning that she kind of has to leave a life behind that she once knew. That’s scary and that comes across in this song so well.
Vocally, Adele digs right to the depths of her vocal range and then goes right up reaching giddy heights within seconds. It’s spectacular and it’s an obvious album highlight.
Ryan Tedder delivered the pop moment of 21 with Set Fire To The Rain but here he pulls it back with a simple piano ballad. At the hands of anybody else this song would just fall so flat but Adele’s vocal swells with emotion. If you’re looking for the track to cry to on 25 look no further than Remedy. It’s not sad in the way Someone Like You was, it’s sad in the way that it’s stirring in a Lean On Me type way.
“When the pain cuts you deep and when the night keeps you from sleeping,” she sings. You can literally feel a thousand hearts breaking at that point before she delivers the warm and fuzzies by singing, “I will be your remedy.” It’s so corny but Adele has this touch that makes it feel real.
Water Under The Bridge
The tempo ramps up a bit for this one which is needed at this point. What’s interesting about this album is that for the most part she seems to be happy but it’s never explicit. “If you’re gonna let me down then let me down gently,” she sings on this song even though she seems to be content in her relationship. It feels as if Adele always thinks something is going to slip away. In interviews she’s explained how she thought no one would care about Hello. She doesn’t take anything for granted and maybe that’s why this album took so long.
As for the song, it’s the perfect one for the midway point. It’s nice to hear her with full back up vocals and a big, triumphant sounding chorus.
For those of you who aren’t well versed in British geography, the River Lea is a river that starts in Luton and meets the Thames in East London. That fact is not incredibly exciting and neither is the song, really. “I need to lighten up and learn how to be young,” she sings on what is probably the album’s oldest sounding moment.
It feels really moody and weighty again like I Miss You not doing any favours for Adele’s voice and also sounding a little melodramatic. If you’re running out of time, a skip won’t hurt on this one.
Love In The Dark
We’re back in ballad territory for this one with just a piano and some simple instrumentation. It feels like she’s ditched the jazz-leanings that 21 had on He Won’t Go and Lovesong and as such it feels like a much bigger album.
While there is nothing too exciting about this there are some beautiful moments like when she sings at the end of the chorus, “everything changes.” The bridge to the chorus, when the backing vocals come in is also pretty stunning.
Million Years Ago
This is one of the few moments on the album that opts for guitar over piano. It’s a good break as we near the end of the album and it’s probably the rawest we get to hear her voice. She bellows through the verses with that big, smoky voice of hers and then enters her softer tones for the chorus.
It’s all about being sad about what she’s left behind. It’s pretty hard to offer Adele any sympathy for the life she’s adopted but when she sings it you can almost understand how it feels. The success of 21 was unprecedented and now even if she wanted to she could never go back to living a normal life. “Sometimes I feel it’s only me who never became what they thought they’d be,” she sings which becomes the centrepiece for the whole song.
All I Ask
Adele teamed up with Bruno Mars on this one and it’s probably one of the biggest ballads either of them have ever created. “If this is my last night with you,” she sings seemingly pushing up an octave every time she utters that line. This is the most she pushes her vocals on the album and you’ll probably marvel the first time you hear it. There isn’t anyone on earth right now who can sing like this and it would be a shame if she passed up the chance to offer us something truly spectacular on this album.
It took Mars to get it out of her but he did it and it works. The instrumental could be a mandolin and you wouldn’t notice because it’s all about the voice on this one. BIG.
This is a completely different album closer to Someone Like You be it feels completely right. Despite the fact she’s in a happy relationship now, there is still a lot of heartbreak on this album but here she sings, “There is something in your loving that tears down my walls.” It feels like she’s truly turning a new leaf on this one and I love an album that can close on a positive note.
It feels a little like a Fleetwood Mac song at the start but it just keeps expanding until she’s belting with everything she has at the end. Epworth delivers on this one bringing a Florence and the Machine-esque aesthetic to it which makes it feel epic and euphoric.
Sonically, this is an Adele we know. There are heartfelt piano ballads and tough, stomping numbers just like on 21 which is exactly what we all wanted from this album. You can criticise her for not taking risks but at the end of the day, 21’s greatest appeal was that it thrived off simple, honest songwriting. When you’re living life and evolving as a person that’s a formula that can never really get boring.
Adele is notably older on this album and the lyrics feel wiser and happier. She seems to be pushing herself vocally and the addition of songwriters like Bruno Mars and Tobias Jesso Jr. has breathed fresh life into her as an artist. It has its moments where it gets a little too heavy and melodramatic but that happens less here than it did on 21.
Maybe the best thing about this is that Adele as a person is back. One of the best things about her is her banter and that cockney laugh. In every interview she presents as a genuine person unphased by fame and that’s perhaps why her songwriting is so honest.
EIGHT OUT OF TEN.
Here's a graph incase you need numerical clarification of how we feel about each song: