Hey, everyone. It's been a while, hasn't it? I just checked, and I haven't written for my newsletter/blog since June. I took a bit of a hiatus because I got caught up with freelance assignments. It's been my busiest year by a wide margin in terms of writing for publications, which is a good thing. Lately, I've had the urge to resuscitate this newsletter and give it a fresh coat of paint, so to speak. So that's what I'm doing right now. I had an idea of how I could accomplish that.
I listen to an album I haven't heard before at least once a day for the most part. I think it's important as a music journalist to constantly surround myself with music that's new to me. For instance, I just finished listening to The Replacements' Tim for the first time and enjoyed it. With that being said, I thought I could do deep dives into artists' catalogs and write a little about each album in their discography. Generally, I'd like to do this for artists I know very little about to make it more interesting and educational for both you and myself. So I'm going to try to do these artist deep dives whenever I have free time/feel like it.
To kick things off, I'm starting with Adele. It feels topical, and I had a revelation that I'd never heard an Adele record all the way through before, so this seemed like a great incentive to familiarize myself with her body of work. She's also releasing her fourth album, 30 (out today), which one of my favorite writers, Craig Jenkins, deemed her best album yet. I haven't heard it yet because I am not important enough (or am I? Drake heard it first. Her own son hasn't even heard it, and it's designed to explain Adele's divorce to him. He even had to wait for the hype-drop to understand a deep part of his family, which I find both sad and a little funny? My parents are divorced, for what it's worth).
I digress; it's time to dive into Adele's music. Also, please subscribe to this newsletter/blog and follow me on Twitter. It helps, and I appreciate it.
Up first, we've got her 2008 debut, 19. This is an intriguing one for me because it's somewhat of an outlier. Adele is famous for her expansive, grandiose piano-pop balladry. Aside from a handful of tracks, this has very few of them. That's not to say that this isn't an immaculately produced, tasteful record (because it is). But compared to her later LPs, her debut is slightly modest. Generally, I think it works. After so many Adele piano ballads, they tend to sound homogenous. I feel like 19 has more variety from a textural perspective. My three favorite songs, "Cold Shoulder," "Right As Rain," and "Tired," all differentiate from Adele's market-tested, anthemic formula. I love the percussive groove of "Cold Shoulder" and how prominent the drums are, especially as a drummer myself. I enjoy the syncopated, bossa-nova feel of "Right as Rain." Adele gets a plethora of Amy Winehouse comparisons (see: Jack White drama), and this one seems the most appropriate to me in my listening experience thus far.
The penultimate track, "Tired," has a subtly kinetic, propulsive mood that seems rare in her music. She seldom stretches herself beyond a mid-tempo BPM rate, but she diverges from that on "Tired." An honorable mention is her HD remake of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," which complements her powerful vocal chops significantly better than Dylan's gravelly talk-sing. In other words, I love when Adele shakes it up, which isn't as common in her current era. Speaking of her current era...
Yeah, I said current era. I understand that this came out in 2011, well over a decade ago, but this is where Adele established her definitive, current sound. As big as "Chasing Pavements" was, Adele became a household name with 21. There's "Rolling in the Deep." There's "Rumour Has It." There's "Set Fire to the Rain." There's "Someone Like You." Because of over-saturation and general ubiquity, though, none of these songs is my favorite. Remember when I mentioned that I enjoy hearing Adele stray from the prototypical piano-pop she's known for? It's time to contradict myself: I like "Turning Tables" the most, as of now. If there's a piano-led song in E flat major or its relative key, C minor, I will probably like it; this is thanks to Yoko Shimomura's stunning compositions for the Kingdom Hearts series. My second favorite is "Don't You Remember." Yes, it's yet another ballad, but she does them with such finesse and rapture that I can't help but enjoy it.
Also, I forgot that she covered The Cure's "Lovesong," which is here in its acoustic, adult-contemporary form. You could say in the parlance of archaic music writing that it's ... Hauntingly Beautiful. I also know that 311 covered "Lovesong," and, similar to that one, I prefer the original Disintegration cut. I love The Cure, and I love Disintegration, so that's going to be difficult to beat.
Overall, I like 19 more. As polished as that one is, 21 is a little too polished for me. I feel like its predecessor is less uniform, as well. Although I love samey bands like Big Thief and Beach House, I just love the sounds of those bands. If you're not a fan of those particular styles, then you're probably not gonna be into Big Thief or Beach House. Adele falls under a similar umbrella. It's not my go-to sound, but I can appreciate it for what it is.
Going in, 25 was the one I was most familiar with. It was virtually unavoidable when it released in 2015, and its opener, "Hello," was everywhere. It reminds me of driving around and having fun in Florida with my girlfriend (now wife) and her family (now in-laws) on my Thanksgiving Break during my freshman year of college. Aside from "Hello," I also knew "Send My Love (to Your New Lover)," "When We Were Young," "Water under the Bridge," and "All I Ask." To be perfectly candid, this album may be my least favorite of the three. You can only become so stratospheric with piano-driven ballads. With 25, it seems like Adele was reaching her limits but not acknowledging them. "River Lea" and "Water under the Bridge" (the verses of which I quite like) err on the cloying, schmaltzy side of things.
It's reminiscent of what happened with M83 after Anthony Gonzalez's 2011 double album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. It's my favorite record of all time, but Gonzalez realized his full potential with it. He's known for his trademark cinematic synth-pop, which can get only so capital-B Big before it ultimately deflates like a balloon. The product of that was its insipid follow-up, 2016's Junk. 25, by comparison, sounds like an amalgam of both of those records on a conceptual level: unapologetically huge and unapologetically cheesy. Then again, this is Adele we're talking about. Making unapologetically huge, unapologetically cheesy songs is kind of her thing, and she's exceptionally good at it.
Hopefully 30 (which will release the same day as this post) caters to Adele's strengths without compromising them. I'd be curious to hear a blend of her first two records. Judging from the reviews I've read of it, it seems to be an improvement of 25 in the sense that it's a grand, sweeping statement that doesn't overwhelm itself. To me, that seems like Adele in her final form.