There are several megastars of the 2010s, to include Taylor Swift, Drake, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran, or Ed “She-heer-an”, as my friend Bobby would say, but none sold records quite like Adele Adkins, known simply as Adele. Starting with her first album “19”, she has established a trend of naming each album for her age as it was recorded and released, and in a very impressive fashion, “21” was a massive hit that was the #1 selling album in both 2011 & 2012. I think we were all taken aback by the unique soulful quality of her voice, and her remarkable talents as a songwriter were also on full display with this powerhouse release. Besides being a commercial blockbuster, it was highly recognized in the industry awards circuit and is rated as album #137 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I recall many of my friends discovering her as a new artist, and I still vividly remember a bold response on social media from my friend Jim, who isn’t always easily impressed, particularly by something this commercial in its exposure.
I think the biggest barrier I eventually ran into with Adele’s music, and it is not that uncommon with an artist this big, is that I eventually hit the wall of “Adele” fatigue. Her CD was in my home like it was almost everyone’s, and between that and five released singles, the first three of which all hit number one, along with an overlap of many genres, that meant you couldn’t turn around without hearing an Adele song. As an artist, I’m sure that is the ultimate achievement, but I did eventually reach some level of burnout with this record, especially the big-name hits, so it was a refreshing return to come back to some of the deeper cuts which stood out as my favorites listening to it more than a decade after its release.
We all know “Rolling In the Deep”, which was the first and biggest hit, and oddly enough, probably my least favorite of her hit singles from this album. “Someone Like You” taps into her post-breakup depression that flows through most of this record. “Set Fire to the Rain” is perhaps the most dramatic and intense song on the record, and another of those songs that when you first heard it, it was hard to believe how talented and young Adele was at the time. “Rumour Has It” was a bit more of a funky chant, but very well received, and the ballad “Turning Tables”, which was probably the least exposed of her five singles, also happens to be my favorite among those songs.
As I noted, the best part of coming back to this album was finding some songs I had lost sight of previously, and my favorite song on the album is “I’ll Be Waiting”, maybe the most up-tempo R&B song on the record, and the piano and horn opening really sets the stage for a great song. Other hidden gems include “He Won’t Go” and “One and Only”, and I had also lost sight of her outstanding and beautiful cover of “Lovesong” by The Cure.
This album remains one of the biggest sellers in musical history and opened the door for a landmark career that remains at full speed to this day. With her soulful voice and creative talent that greatly exceeded her natural age and experience, along with her British heritage, I can’t help but compare her to Amy Winehouse, and I’d like to think Adele is helping us to carry on and fill the massive void of Amy’s tragic death. No matter what generation, the world still appreciates the simple beauty of a heartfelt song by a beautiful singer, and that’s exactly what we have on “21”.