Adele’s comforting, soulful voice and heartwrenching ballads captured the world’s attention and tears in 2011 when her sophomore album “21” became one of the best-selling albums of all time, spawning three massive number-one singles and winning seven Grammy awards.
Following the massive success of “21,” Adele took an extended hiatus, during which she became a mother and largely isolated herself from the public, causing huge speculation about her next move. This October, she dropped another bomb in the form of “Hello,” the perfectly titled comeback single that inspired endless viral jokes without losing any of the emotional gravitas of her previous work. It debuted at the top of the charts, building further anticipation for her new album “25,” which was released on Friday.
With the release of “25,” Adele shows more musical progression than ever, taking cues from contemporary artists and genres. The sprawling “I Miss You” is reminiscent of Beyoncé’s “Haunted,” with its affecting piano and pounding military drums. The Max Martin-produced “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” evokes flashbacks of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” sans the faux dubstep drops. The soft disco synths and subtle grooves of “Water Under the Bridge” signals a further change of sound for Adele in the future.
Of course, this is Adele we are talking about, so she does not veer far from her signature bombastic ballads, which, while mostly successful, sometimes fall flat. The atmospheric “River Lea” adds a hypnotizing element to her classic style, while the Ryan Tedder-produced “Remedy” sounds like an uninspired retread of her previous material.
Adele provides more of her unifying lyrics about heartbreak and despair through the entire album, rarely deviating from her perpetual state of reflection. “All I Ask,” co written by Bruno Mars, plays as the spiritual successor to “Someone Like You,” but deals with the heartache of losing someone rather than the recovery, containing devastating lyrics like “It matters how this ends, cause what if I never love again?” She only changes the tone of the album for its closer, “Sweetest Devotion,” which is a sweet and faithful ode to her son, Angelo.
A theme that seems to recur in “25” is yearning for her past, something that “Hello” hints at. “Let me photograph you in this light in case it is the last time / That we might be exactly like we were,” Adele sings on “When We Were Young,” a soaring choir-assisted ballad that looks primed to be her next world-conquering single. The sparsely arranged acoustics on “Million Years Ago” allows her voice and lyrics to take center stage as she belts, “Life was a party to be thrown, but that was a million years ago.”
Adele, much like P!nk, rarely changes her sound, but betters her craft with each album. The more sonically interesting soundscapes paired with her soothing emotive vocals and dramatic flair make “25” her best work yet, easily outshining the Motown-inspired soul jams of her previous albums. Whether or not Adele is brave enough to make a radical reinvention, the album shows enough progression to anticipate the further growth of her sound.”
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 23 print edition. Email Jake Viswanath at [email protected]