Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review - Adele From 19 to 21

Adele Adkins is a 22 year old singer from the UK. She has released two albums: 19 and 21 which both feature songs written when she was those respective ages.  Her music features lyrics that are wise beyond her years and some of the most soulful vocals in pop music today.

19 was released in 2008.  The album starts with “Daydreamer” a song about an ex boyfriend who realized he was gay.  This leads into the jazzy “Best for Last”.  Here it is:

In this song, she is accompanied by an acoustic bass guitar. Listen carefully and you’ll hear bass chords on the verses, and a melodic bass line on the chorus.  Adele is the bassist and speaking as someone who played String Bass decades ago, I have to say that takes talent.

The first single “Chasing Pavements” is followed by “Cold Shoulder” which was produced by Mark Ronson (co-producer of Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen among others).

Another notable song is her cover version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”.  Here is the original:

Here is her cover version:

With her cover version, Adele owns this song. Backed simply by piano accompaniment and a tasteful violin, it’s a showcase for her powerful voice. With vocal dynamics, vibrato, limited melisma, this is a testament to her talent.

Finally, I want to highlight the techno influenced “Tired”:

Adele benefited from fortuitous timing. She was booked to appear on Saturday Night Live on October 18, 2008. In and of itself this is not very remarkable. However, that happened to be the night that Sarah Palin was scheduled to appear as well.  That night Saturday Night Live earned its highest ratings in 14 years.  The next day 19 became the number one album on iTunes.

Shortly after the release of 19, DJ Mick Boogie created a mixtape called Adele 1988.  This mixtape takes her vocals from 19 and mixes them with beats from 1988 the year she was born along with guest MC’s.

Chasing 1988 features the guitars from Chasing Pavements, snippets of the vocals, MC 6th Sense on the Mic and the Funky Drummer beat (which was ubiquitous in 1988).

Here is the remix of First Love, which frankly is even better than the original. Lyrically the original is a devastating song about realizing you’ve outgrown your first love. Musically it’s a little slip of a song. With the addition of beats and a guest rapper it becomes more substantial song, befitting the lyrics.: 

Right as Rain features LL Cool J's Goin' Back to Cali beat:

Recently, Adele released her second album 21.  The album starts off with first single “Rolling in the Deep”:

Adele describes it as a “dark bluesy gospel disco tune” and it’s not a bad description. Starting off with acoustic guitar you can immediately hear an increased confidence in her voice. Soon a steady bass drum bean thunders in followed by piano and hi hats building up to the chorus. At the chorus she sounds as powerful as a Wagnerian Soprano.

Next up is “Rumour Has It”. Musically it sounds like the missing link between Jump Blues and Honky Tonk Country. The tempo slows down with a ballad called “Turning Tables” and a Country song called “Don’t You Remember”. During the American tour for 19 she discovered a love of Country music from her bus driver. Here is “Don’t You Remember”:

Other notable songs include “Set Fire To The Rain”, the R&B influenced “He Won’t Go” and a Bossa Nova cover version of The Cure’s “Lovesong”. While she doesn’t own “Lovesong” the way she did with “Make You Feel My Love” it’s an interesting take on the material.

Finally “Someone Like You” is the culmination of everything that preceded. Here it is: 

The song has an unusual structure. Beginning with the four bar piano intro, there is an eight bar verse followed by a four bar verse.  There is a four bar pre chorus then an eight bar chorus.  There is a four bar verse, followed by the four bar pre chorus then repeat of the eight bar chorus. A middle eight bridge is then followed by the eight bar chorus repeated.

Starting with a plaintive Piano Arpeggio, Adele starts singing to her ex lover who’s moved on. “I heard that your dreams came true, guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you”.

In the pre chorus she sings “I hate to show up out of the blue uninvited, but I couldn’t stay away, couldn’t fight it. I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over.”

Then the magnificent chorus. She starts out strong with the first two lines. “Never mind I’ll find someone like you. I wish nothing but the best for you too”.  Adele then goes up an octave, and to be honest not quite hitting the notes. “Don’t forget me, I beg, I’ll remember you saied: Sometimes it last in love and sometimes it hurts instead.”

Even though she doesn’t quite hit the right notes when she goes up an octave, it ends up being much more effective than it would have been if she did. It symbolizes and articulates what she’s feeling. When she performs it live she doesn’t go up the octave and while the song is still devastating, it doesn’t have the same impact as the studio version. I had originally heard a live version first and thought it was amazing. My jaw dropped when I heard the studio original.

Adele is one of the most talented young artists working today.  She won the Best New Artist Grammy which is one of the few times that receiving the award was truly deserved.  19, Adele 1988 and 21 are well worth checking out.

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