Sound — 9
Adele is the best-selling artist of the decade. While her music is not the most complex, it is soulful, almost beyond belief. From a respect standpoint, Adele crushes the modern day stereotype of pop singers. She isn't where she is because of her looks, dance moves, or off-stage antics. Her voice is amazing, no auto-tune needed. To top it off, she writes all her own material and doesn't saturate her music with the electronic beats and samples that are so prevalent in pop music today. If Taylor Swift captures the hearts of thirteen-year-old girls, the more mature Adele captures the hearts of the rest of us. Accordingly, the first single from this album, "Hello," broke sales records as did the album, which just managed the incredible feat of selling over 4.3 million copies in the UK after just one week.
So does this album live up to the hype? Is there anything that we as guitarists can take from it? The answer is yes to both questions. The only thing Adele didn't do with this album is take a progressive turn. Her song/chord structures are predictable and the music overall is not different in the slightest from her previous work. Nevertheless, Adele possesses an incredible songwriting acumen that is in full force on this album. She has this indescribable ability that great songwriters have to write an album full of songs that are empirically similar, yet still sound so different. This is the first album in a long time where I have been able to memorize the vocal melody to every song after two or three listens. And despite the similar music across the album, I never feel bored. Even the continuous melancholy of the album never gets old. Sure, this wouldn't be an album to listen to in any life situation, but what it does, it does better than anyone else does.
We as guitarists can do well to pay attention and learn what we can from the superb songwriting. For example, I realized that Adele makes large dynamic leaps between verses and choruses. The instrumentation always follows her voice to emphasize the contrast. I think that we can learn to do the same thing, to not play a whole song at one intensity, but rather to highlight highs and lows. Her voice also doesn't always hit the notes perfectly. Yet it still sounds great because when Adele ventures away from what is expected of her, she does it with a purpose that results in a noticeable effect. While it might seem like an odd lesson, I think we can learn to plan our mistakes, so to speak.
As my previous words would lead you to believe, I think that Adele has made all the right decisions with this album. Most of these decisions deal with her voice, how to cradle it, and how to make it the main focus. To this end, Adele keeps it simple with the instrumentation. Rarely more than two or three instruments play at once. Their parts stay contained, never venturing into any sort of range that would distract attention from Adele's vocals. Electronic instruments/sampling machines are kept to a manageable minimum. Any sound on the album aside from Adele's voice is there to texture the vocals, to work the dynamics so that the vocal movements are accentuated. The unfortunate thing is that, in my opinion, none of the songs reach the magnificence of "Rolling in the Deep" because they don't approach the equal vocal/instrumental collaboration that characterizes that song.
Lyrics — 10
There is a reason that every aspect of the music is set up to highlight the vocals; Adele has arguably the best voice of the 21st century. Her voice is what allows her to be successful even though she doesn't conform to the modern ideal of a pop singer. Her voice is, above all else, why her last album sold as well as it did and stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for many years (I don't know if it ever came off). When Adele announced that she had underwent surgery on her vocal chords, some wondered if her voice would keep the same character that had made it the voice of a generation.
Fortunately, her voice is as strong as ever; you wouldn't even know she had the surgery. Her enormous range is on full display and she really shows how to inject emotion into her words. Adele continues to show that she is one of the few vocalists in the world that can move a person to tears without music to accompany her (though it certainly helps).
Adele's voice is so uniquely powerful that she could probably be successful regardless of her lyrics. But, it just so happens that her lyrics are also pretty good as well. Her lyrical topics almost all have to do with romantic relationships, usually with a negative connotation. Adele does not necessarily write about situations in unique ways, but she has this ability to make her words come across as powerful as her voice does. Again, the music might not be complex or unique. The lyrics might not be complex or unique. But Adele's ability to mesh the two together is unique.
Here is a simple and smooth lyrical example from "Water Under the Bridge":
"If you're not the one for me
Then I'll come back
And bring you to your knees.
If you're not the one for me
Why do I hate the idea of being free?
And if I'm not the one for you
You've gotta stop holding me the way you do.
Why if I'm not the one for you?
Why have we been through what we have been through?
If you're gonna let me down, let me down gently
Don't pretend that you don't want me
Our love ain't water under the bridge"
Overall Impression — 8
This is another outstanding album from Adele. She knows what works and she sticks to it throughout the album. With her voice still as powerful as it is, there is no reason for her to stop. That being said, I don't think that this album is as good as her last album, "21," because there is not as much synergy between the vocals and the music. Still, this album is only worse by Adele's standards, which still makes it the best pop album of the year. The best song is the one all over the radio, "Hello." Other than that, two standout tracks are "River Lea" and "When We Were Young." Really though, this album is filled with great songs. If nothing else, there is something to be said for how Adele is performing many different songs from the album on late night television appearances instead of just the lead single.