Five out of five stars
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I’ll be the first to admit that when I first heard “Hello,” the first single off Adele’s remarkable third album, I was concerned.
The ballad seems like an easy route to success for the singer. It’s the kind of song she makes seem so effortless. Yet, with repeated listens it became a relentless earworm that sank in deeper and deeper with each consecutive spin. It didn’t catch me at first, but now I am hooked.
One should approach “25” with the knowledge that the British singer-songwriter, 27, wants to be careful where she treads. Her most recent two albums - “19” and “21” -- were both monster sellers amid a somewhat barren music-industry economy.
So tracks like the Greg Kurstin-assisted “Hello” and the Tobias Jesso Jr. co-write, “When We Were Young,” play up the elements we have come to expect from Adele without taking too many risks.
That being said, it is Adele’s flawless execution that makes these winners. She is, after all, the closest successor we have to Whitney Houston, who could definitely sell a crowd-pleasing ballad while keeping things from getting too cheesy. Adele seems to have a similar universal appeal.
She co-wrote every song on this record with a rotating cast of industry titans. Her longtime collaborator and producer, Paul Epworth, is present on a few tracks, Bruno Mars co-wrote “All I Ask,” while Danger Mouse contributes to “River Lea.”
Most amazingly, though, Max Martin and Shellback co-wrote the fascinatingly interesting “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” Maybe it is due to Adele’s contributions to the track, but it may be among their most appealing songs to date.
Ryan Tedder, whose presence often leads to formulaic (yet successful) mediocrity, also does some nice work with his contributions to “Remedy.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, that Adele has the most success working with Kurstin and Epworth. Regardless, this is a classic album packed with potential singles and no duds. Everyone here is working at the top of their game.
This is the best and most consistent album of Adele’s career. It’s also the most confident. While it plays to a pop audience, there are also moments with some striking bits of edge. The pounding, ominous climb of “I Miss You” serves as a reminder that while this is released by Columbia, it is also a joint-venture with XL, because it shows artsy hallmarks of the Richard Russell-helmed label’s signature sound.
This album also has some incredibly dense, musically sophisticated passages. “Million Years Ago,” for instance, has a timeless jazzy energy not commonly heard on the Billboard Top 200 these days.
In all, this album is deeply nuanced and demands complete focus. If the ballads all blend together at first, give it a couple listens and, with time, they will let their greatness be known.
This is not a record that will rapidly wear out its welcome. It seems like this is the kind of record that will evolve upon repetition.
With “25,” Adele has delivered on a promise to drop the album she is most capable of making. Yes, it is a heavily hyped release and, yes, no doubt everyone is his-her mother will be blasting this through the holiday season and beyond.
If the sales projections and predictions are right, this will be the biggest-selling record in some time. This is one of the very few cases in history where sales figures and musical quality will meet in somewhat perfect symmetry.
“25” easily bests both “19” and “21,” and Adele’s pure talent and charisma are nothing short of jaw-dropping. As someone who has always liked her, but has in the past sometimes doubted the level of hype, this is the album that has thoroughly convinced me that she has earned her status.
She is an entertainer for the ages. If this era needs to have a singer who sells albums by the boat-load, she is an excellent pick.
“Sweetest Devotion” This closing track, co-written with Epworth, is an ethereal hit waiting to happen, recalling “Joshua Tree”-era U2. Surely this song will eventually get a dance-remix treatment, in which case, with the right mix, it might recall Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You.”
“Million Years Ago” The most musically sophisticated and melodic song on the album, this is another track written and recorded with Kurstin, exhibiting all the reasons for Adele’s extremely broad appeal.
“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” With a sound that I would describe as “post-new-wave flamenco reggae,” this track is one of the few where Adele goes out her comfort zone. That strange high note she hits when she says the word “lover” comes with a playful lilt that simultaneously recalls Kate Bush and the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Frasier.