Despite doing pretty well for herself with 2008 debut record 19, Adele’s really arrived in 2011. 19 saw her vying for the same crown as, like, a jillion other soul-y, British, white girls (see: Amy Winehouse, Candie Payne, Duffy, Joss Stone. Lily Allen, if you’re feeling friendly?). The album chart-topped in Adele’s native UK , peaking at number 10 Stateside despite winning two Grammy Awards. It’d be surprising if, in a week, her newest, 21, didn’t debut at number one globally. If 19 was Adele’s timid introduction to court, 21 should mark her well-deserved coronation.
Heralding her return, but also marking a departure, was the late fall release of first single, siren-song “Rolling In The Deep,” which is bluesier and, really, more aggressive than her prior output. The song also spawned some killer remixes, proving Adele’s ability to pen a tune that’s universal (melodically, lyrically, thematically) but can be molded to capture a wide market. Domination aside, labeling her commanding vocal and physical presence as diva-esque would be lazy. Really, Adele’s too sweet and outwardly vulnerable for all of that. 21, titled in the vein of its predecessor—her age while writing/recording— is evidence of this, and of serious musical maturation.
Anthemic could describe more than a few of the 13 songs here—bold melodies, chest-clutching singing—but there’s a crown jewel. From Adele’s first honeyed-hoarse note, which pierces a rippling piano melody carrying the song, “Someone Like You” is a heart-wrencher made all the more real by reeling phrasing and bare-voiced pleading, “I wish nothing but the best for you, too.” Adele is also singing more assertively and theatrically here, channeling a ’40s, piano-vixen lounge singer on “Rumour Has It,” and hazily draping her voice over a Creolized cover of The Cure’s torrid “Lovesong.”
Starbucks-friendlier content (the kind-of schmaltzy “Don’t You Remember,” and melodramatic “Set Fire to the Rain”) will ensure 21‘s dominance through to the next Grammys, for sure. But Adele’s tenderhearted appeal isn’t lost with formidable, big-budget steering (Rick Rubin, Dan Wilson, Paul Epworth, etc., are executive producers): 21 is just a logical, major label extension of her girl-ish, diary-dream optimism.