21, by Adele
More than a decade after its release, this album is one of the best-selling albums of all time, having sold more than twenty million copies in the United States alone. Several of the songs on this album became absolute smash hits, with two of the songs on this album having been listened to more than 1 billion times on spotify, a very high level of achievement–although it must be noted that even so, not all of the songs on this album have even been listened to 100 million times, making it an album whose hits are well known but whose deeper album tracks remain a bit obscure to the general listening audience. This album is what turned Adele from a minor songstress to a massive superstar. Does this album still hold up, though?
This album begins with the stellar “Rollin’ In The Deep,” a song that captures an exciting but somewhat frustrating mood of missing what one thought one would be able to enjoy for a long time, perhaps even a lifetime, with someone. “Rumour Has It,” follows with a storytelling song about a doomed romance in three acts that is so personal in its details that the person who the song is about probably slapped her with a restraining order if he felt too uncomfortable to sue for libel. “Turning Tables” is a moving mid-tempo song about problems of intimacy with someone who is unstable. “Don’t You Remember” is a call to a lover to remember her, wondering behind some twangy instrumentation whether he has completely forgotten her–let us hope not because she will likely be singing about it for another decade or so. “Set Fire To The Rain,” another big hit from this album, is a dramatic song about a toxic response to a relationship, but it’s still beautiful all that. “He Won’t Go” is a jazzy song about the struggle to build intimacy with someone who does not meet up to one’s hopes and expectations and memories. “Take It All” is a mournful breakup ballad where the singer looks to be taken back by a partner for another try, the sort of sound and mood that would be pretty common after this. “I’ll Be Waiting” is a rousing ode to commitment to getting better and enjoying love with someone one is not currently with. “One And Only” is another maudlin song about love and devotion that is a template of the sorts of songs that we would eventually get more and more often. “Lovesong” offers a cover version that is a tasteful piano ballad, as one would expect, of an alt-rock original. “Someone Like You” shows the singer abandoning a hopeless desire for someone but expressing the desire to find someone like him instead, rather than trying to move on for something different altogether.
If you like Adult Contemporary music that is on the spirited and energetic side, this album is a great one, and it is clear that there is a large audience for music like this. The only downside of this album for me is that it seems like an obvious commercial and creative peak. In the only two studio albums she has released since then, she has not moved on from this level of confessional lyrics about hopeless and dysfunctional relationships and the frustrated longing for lasting intimacy. Creatively speaking, Adele seems to have been spinning her wheels for years now, and she is still at the same level of growth and maturity now as a thirty-something as she was when she was beginning her third decade. This is somewhat distressing. Even more of a downer, the albums have gotten less upbeat and enjoyable to listen to with time, although all are at least modestly enjoyable to listen to that I have so far. There is only one album to go, though, so we’ll see how it goes.