Sometimes the Grammys get it right. In 1965 the Beatles were named best new artist. In 1972 Carly Simon snagged the award, as did Sade in 1986 and Alicia Keys in 2002. Two years ago a young British singer named Adele picked up that honor due to a strong performance on her debut, 19, and its hit single “Chasing Pavement.” It isn’t going too far out on a limb to say that 2009’s award went to the correct artist. Adele possesses a dynamic voice and delivers her songs with the passion of a true diva.She is poised to sweep the Grammys this year with 6 nominations including Album, Song, and Record of the Year.
For her second release Adele again takes the title from her age, and her motivation from her personal life. Having recently experienced a tumultuous break-up, she is well equipped to rip into songs about heartbreak, and make no mistake about it, 21 is a break-up album. There’s nothing like the pain, indignity and frustration of young lovers learning the not-so- fine-art of separation. Additional inspiration comes from Mumford & Sons’ album Sigh No More. Adele explains, “That Mumford record was me and my ex’s album. If it wasn’t for that album I don’t think I’d be as emotionally drained as I am and not as emotionally exhausted and not been able to write this album.”
Exhaustion isn’t the first thought that comes to mind upon hearing the first two tracks. “There’s a fire, starting in my heart/reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out of the dark” she begins on “Rolling in the Deep,” accompanied only by guitar. As she grows more determined, the drums pounds, the piano and percussion kick in – and then the onslaught of the band as she delivers fair warning to her ex-lover. “Rumour Has It” begins with a pounding bass drum and builds with handclaps, guitar, organ, and choruses of dubbed Adele. This is a great song for anyone desperate for shouting out declarations of revenge. She slows the song down for a piano underscored interlude before charging back into the fray. Here the album takes a turn toward the ballad.
On the third track, “Turning Tables,” Adele slows down the pace but the passion hits a high point, matched by strings and piano. It’s a beautiful, emotional performance. The songs that follow never match the tempo of the first couple of tracks but Adele entices the ear with a variety of musical influences from Elton John to Dusty Springfield. Her lyrics run from poignant to angry, to remorseful.
There are any number of great young chanteuses with vocal range and perfect pitch. What stands Adele apart is her phrasing. It’s a talent that is difficult to tutor in an emerging singer and with Adele it seems to be innate. The woman is only 21 and yet she has that rare ability to reach inside and pull out the kind of emotions that are immediately identifiable. As I listened to 21 I couldn’t help but remember what it felt like to be young, to be in love, to lose love for the first time and to struggle with what to do with those swirling, often contradictory emotions. I bet I’ll still be intrigued by this artist as she releases albums 25 and 30.