25, by Adele
By the time Adele released 25, she was one of the biggest pop stars in the world. It is hard to think of that being the case, because it would seem at first listen that Adele was out of step with the trends of music at the time, but her music has had massive appeal and several songs of this album managed to be immensely successful. When placing this song in the context of its times, the material on this album reflects a certain sense of minimalism that leaves a lot of space for the listener to project their own self-reflective tendencies and their own experiences into the confessional songs included. If this album was not quite as successful as 21–few albums in history have been–this is an album that clearly indicated Adele was more than a one-album wonder in the United States and she was a pop phenomenon that clearly had some sort of longevity. Does it stack up as an enjoyable listen, though?
The album begins with the austere and melancholy ballad “Hello,” which was a deserved smash hit when it was released. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” is similarly spare, but rather quicker in tempo, also it has a certain worrisome tendency to give a passive-aggressive avoidance of responsibility that can be hidden in the upbeat framing of the song that made it a hit. “I Miss You” is an open expression of heartbreak and longing with some excellent drumming that is a real slow burn. “When We Were Young” is gorgeous and languid song about nostalgia and reconnecting that was also a big hit from this album. “Remedy” is a lovely piano ballad that expresses Adele’s wish to bring healing and restoration to a loved one, a noble and laudable sentiment. “Water Under The Bridge” is a mid-tempo song about an awkward and ambivalent relationship that seems to bode badly for the character of both people involved. “River Lea” offers a soulful reflection the artist’s youth and the way that she has internalized her upbringing, a rather melancholy thought it must be admitted. “Love In The Dark” is an unhappy song about Adele’s inability to love and her sense of shame, which takes a while to get started. “Million Years Ago” is an acoustic song about nostalgia and the desire to recapture the elusive joys and relationships lost in the past. “All I Ask” is a poignant piano ballad expressing Adele’s final request of a lover in a relationship that is about to fall apart. “Sweetest Devotion” closes the album on an optimistic notion of lasting love, a mood that seems to be undercut by the generally melancholy tone of the rest of the album as a whole but expressive of the singer’s hopes.
By and large, 25 is an album that suits my tastes for Adult Contemporary music about relationships and a complicated relationship with the past. Some of these songs resonate very well with me personally, and I suspect a great deal of the popularity of the album was the way that the song’s material resonated widely with an audience that finds adulthood and contemporary life to be unsatisfying, and if not necessarily wanting the past to return, at least seeing the present world and our present selves as less than ideal. If this album presents Adele and her love life as less than ideal, it also presents her as struggling with questions of responsibility and self-awareness about her own role in the dysfunction of her life. One would want to see progress from this, but sometimes progress is elusive, and this album is certainly evidence of the fact that it is easier to admit the truth than it is to do something about it.