Emotive yet defiant. Heartbreaking, yet resolutely, determinedly upbeat. Drenched in tragedy, but never passive. Adele’s 25 is a typically paradoxical Adele album, one that manages to combine fragility with ferocity. In that way, as in many others, it may well prove to be the artist’s magnum opus; a sleek but rubbed raw record that trembles with a unique power.
Adele’s voice is as strong as it has ever been, and indeed her vocal performance on tracks like lead single Hello and the full-blooded I Miss You genuinely stuns. It’s not just that she can sing loud, and in a manner that is technically precise: it’s that she can sing truthfully. Her quavering yet controlled voice reaches places other musicians simply cannot access, and though Water Under The Bridge’s chorus might have seemed clichéd if sung by a musician with less powerful timbres, Adele transforms it into something entirely fresh.
Perhaps most excitingly, though in many ways 25 is quintessentially Adele, it’s not a case of a musician recycling past hits. River Lea and Million Years Ago both see the artist trying something new, and prove to be genuinely brave artistic choices. The former in particular impresses, what with its R n B fused chorus and layered, dense vocal work.
A song like Sweetest Devotion is as emotional as anything the musician has ever recorded, which, given her blistering, tear-drenched back catalogue is saying something. And again, though it tackles a subject matter that will be familiar to any of the artist’s fans – love, and love lost – it does so with a cathartic joy that is fresh, and empowering. This isn’t a carbon copy of Rolling In The Deep; it’s a mould-breaker, designed less to replicate successes of the past and more to strike out through new, dangerous territory.
Given the way Hello smashed the charts to pieces, 25 was never going to be anything but a commercial success. But the album doesn’t just represent an economic victory for the singer; it’s an artistic triumph, a thrilling reminder of just how intelligent and nuanced pop records can be.