If Adele’s 19 album was the warm-up, then 21 is the fully fledged masterpiece. As the album settles into the first few tracks you are stunned into silence by just how good it is. Tracks like Set Fire To The Rain show Adele’s vocals at full tilt; her range is stunning, her voice full and empowered by a new-found confidence that so many artists discover on their second albums.
We all fell in love with the gentle balladry of Chasing Pavements back in 2008, but the songs on Adele’s new album represent a very different kind of sound. All the class and glamour are still there paired with bared-to-the-skin emotions and feelings - but the tracks now have so much more energy, more attitude, and in the case of stunning lead single Rolling In The Deep, even dip into up-tempo, gospel tinged disco.
Recent years have seen countless artists ‘re-creating’ an ‘80s sound’, or a ‘Britpop vibe’ – delving into the musical chest of ideas from ages past. But with Adele, any allusions to years gone by feel completely and utterly natural. In the velvety richness of her voice and the comforting, warm production, there are glimpses of the 60s and 70s; all Dusty Springfield and memories of more innocent times. But it always remains resolutely Adele’s own sound – she is the genuine article, not an imitation.
Her voice is instantly recognisable and at times we must remind ourselves, at 22, just how young Adele is. By naming her albums with something as simple as her age, just two digits, she creates a real sense of intimacy to her music. From 19 to 21, we have followed her progression from up and coming songstress to one of the most shining examples of British talent. I’ll Be Waiting, with its brass section and anthemic chorus exudes pure swagger while Turning Tables is this album’s Hometown Glory, chilling piano melodies flowing round delicate strings.
On 21, Adele is all diva, and she has every inch of the talent to back it up. You need only look at the praise the British press has already heaped on the album to see how much people are taking this album to heart. It feels like the return of an old friend, sweeping you up in all the emotions that entails. And with some of the hottest production talent around at the moment on hand – Paul Epworth, Fraser T Smith, Rick Rubin – 21 represents the sound of an artist knowing exactly how to excel at everything that made them so brilliant the first time around.