Adele’s “25” is the third full-length album from the singer/songwriter in four years following the understated international success of “21.”
From vocal cord surgery to the birth of a baby boy to an ongoing struggle with writer’s block, we’ve followed Adele’s activity leading up to this release with eager anticipation.
Last month when her album dropped — at last! — I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it.*
[By the way, when was the last time you had to mentally prepare yourself to spend time with an entire album? In a singles-based world the method seems antipodal.]
One cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, I trudged home after spending the night (and two months) with someone (I loved, but) who wasn’t ready to commit.
Emotions were burnt, feelings were felt.
And it was time.
I took a hot shower, cooked a single person’s omelette, and turned the volume way up.**
Surely, there’s a therapist somewhere who’d agree that there’s comfort to be found in confronting the moroseness of life. (perhaps I’m quoting Morrissey there, or perhaps that’s just Morrissey 101.)
“25” isn’t a story based on a singular theme. Instead, many themes are woven together across the course of the album that in theory, if you’ve been dating long enough can be connected to at least one person within each.
The instant classic is “Hello.” It’s hauntingly beautiful and resolute, seemingly arriving on a night train from the past. It’s a voice that seeks to reconnect, to resolve — to validate from within the weighty fog of what once was.
The bouncing and swaying of “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” cheekily bids adieu to a former partner with whom the timing didn’t work out. Adele delivers her words with integrity and self-awareness, steadying the message while somehow reassuring us that it’s okay to reluctantly move on from someone without fully understanding every reason why. Emotively, the listener can sense her personal phoenix rising.
I was too strong you were trembling
You couldn’t handle the hot heat rising (rising)
Baby I’m so rising
“I Miss You” speaks to a physical craving gone adrift. It’s about a different type of longing — the one for human touch and sensuality. The caress of their fingertips, the way they ran their hands through your hair or down the back of your naked spine.
At this point I was typing fast but my fingers froze after the first verse of “When We Were Young.”
Everybody loves the things you do
From the way you talk
To the way you move…
Everybody here is watching you
‘Cause you feel like home
You’re like a dream come true
This song, assuredly a standout, is about the first person who truly knocked you on your ass. It’s about the sheer perfection of first love — the way you remember how that person looked at you, the beauty of youth and the flawless connection made before we grew to form our crusty outer shells.
It begs the question — when you go home for the holidays, will you see him or her again? Will everything freeze around them the way it used to, and if the two of you speak, will the words sound the same? Or will everything be different because, well, we’re grown ups now?
The sheer recognition of it all whisked me away. The song ended, I blinked a couple of times, and the distance between fifteen years ago and today was nothing but a tiny drop in the bucket.
The album’s key themes are of youth, regret, forgiveness, self-acceptance, and the passage of time.
Adele finds a way to tie these back to the inquisitively beautiful and sometimes dark side of the mind — the one we catch glimpses of in moments of true clarity. As a lyricist this is where she excels. She finds a way to identify and voice our deeply-rooted insecurities, pushing them from the murky shadows into the light.
“All I Ask” is striking in eloquence, describing the last night spent with the love of one’s life. It ends with the question we commonly ask ourselves after doing everything we can to make a relationship work in order to avoid the inevitable — “what if I never love again?”
The finest pieces of art lend themselves to the human experience. Lyrically strong — and while not entirely gripping from a musical perspective — “25” is solid in conveying the themes it set out to support.
At occasional points the music seems decoupled from the voice almost in a timeshifting way. It’s as though the music was written for an older generation while the lyrics remain persistently modern.
I know I’m not the only one
Who regrets the things they’ve done
Sometimes I just feel it’s only me
Who never became who they thought they’d be
-Million Years Ago
Finally on “Love In The Dark,” Adele is the one initiating the break up. This is the song for the person whose heart you broke and ends with the line “I don’t think you can save me.”
Secretly, in your heart of hearts, you still wonder if that person could have done some saving after all.
“25” is a journey that is truly lovely and fully alive. It’s no surprise that, coming from Adele, the entire body of work finds a way to define and expose our most vulnerable truths in an exceptionally rare and elegant way.
This album heals and transcends. It also helps us to better comprehend.
After all, maybe that’s the artist’s intent. The desire to connect, and, after it’s all said and done quietly wonder: “Will anyone else understand?”
Yes Adele, we do.
“25” is out now. Buy the album from iTunes here.
*Was this partly due to the fact that the album wasn’t available on Spotify? Probably.
**After re-learning how to buy an album on iTunes (did you know you have to navigate to “Music” separately after?)