In February 2012, at the height of her post-’21’ pomp, Adele Adkins told a reporter: ‘I can’t write another break-up record. That would be a real cliché. It would just be a boring running theme. I think people will be like: “I think I’ve had enough now, cheer up”.’
She kinda nailed it.The fastest way to explain ‘25’ – one of the most tremendously fêted albums ever – is to say that there’s nothing on it as scorching and pulse-racing as ‘Rolling in the Deep’, and there’s nothing so overwhelmingly moving as ‘Someone Like You’. That in itself doesn’t make it a bad album – but it’s what 99 percent of people will think after that all-important first listen. It’s no ‘21’.
After the insane success of that breakthrough second album, Adele could have had it all. She could have travelled the world, broadened her horizons, learned new tricks. Reinvention was within her grasp.
The fact that Adele has eschewed reinvention this time around, and instead tried to make a whole album of ‘Someone Like You’s, is a shame. But the fact that ‘25’ is as innovative as a flip phone isn’t a reason to criticise it. So here’s one: It’s a bit dull.
Now, that’s not to say it’s not worth a listen. Wailers and wallowers in particular should rest assured – ‘25’ is still a festival of sadness, a ruptured tear duct gushing out woe like an unmanned fire hose. If you only hear one piano ballad this year, make it ‘All I Ask’ – written with Bruno Mars yet pleasantly reminiscent of the great Whitney Houston.
The trouble is, from the start of ‘Hello’ to the very end of ‘Sweetest Devotion’, the whole album is smothered in so much monotonous and melancholy piano that all the songwriting, and all those vocal details, blur into one. You crave the odd moment of rock abandon, like ‘21’s ‘Rumour Has It’, but it never comes.
The only real surprise is the presence of Max Martin (the Swedish super-songwriter responsible for hits by Britney, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift) who looms large over one of the album’s only great (poppy) leaps forward – ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’, which pleasingly recalls The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’.
That song, along with others, mines the passing of time and the age-old discomfort of getting older as a primary source of sorrow. Yet Adele is still only 27 years old. Most people would consider that young – in the same way, sadly, most people will consider ‘25’ a bit dull.