Around the end of October, it was hard to find any dorm room, radio station, or set of headphones that wasn’t blasting “Hello.” Adele’s first single since “Skyfall,” “Hello” gives the 27-year-old, blue-eyed star an open range to belt out marathon notes and stew on baser yearnings, soulful tropes which she continues to breathe life into after nearly eight years of airwave attention. We’ve been waiting a while for new material, and Adele rewards us on 25 with clever lyrical devotion to the very process of anxious aging itself. Luckily, her vocal chops show no signs of decline.
The connecting thread of the compilation is a clear and present tension between maturity and unyielding rawness, the latter coming back to seep through even the most restrained and cool-headed numbers. 25 is first and foremost a crooning documentation of this quintessential 20-something negotiation over age and love, one which is given bluesy groundings in the expansive voice of its creator. A high point of the internal tug-of-war is in the lilting “When We Were Young,” a sweetly anxious tribute to former love which is equal parts ode to an individual and to youth. You could almost miss the closing lines, “I’m so mad I’m getting old, it makes me reckless,” except for the enraged intensity of their delivery, making it clear that this particular sense of loss is aimed at more than just a relationship.
This tension, this dilemma over youth and age, inexperience and experience, makes itself apparent over the entirety of the album. Adele is not simply tackling her four-year gap in production and the aging of her career with wizened restraint—she is deliberately and vocally distraught. In “Water Under the Bridge” and “All I Ask,” the singer finds the right voice to capture endings with an inconsolable melancholy that manages to keep its distance from becoming a whine. On “Million Years Ago,” the vocals come in close and stripped down, guitar plucking in the background as she steps as close as she dares to pure indulgent sentimentality—the good times you just can’t get back. The result is an album ringing with authenticity in its weakness, its brutal longing to cheat time.
As much as this soulful angst is a tribute to strife, lighter moments abound in which the artist appears to present her progress towards a place of contentment. A release from the inhibitions of adolescent trembling, “Send My Love” opens the album on a farewell note that feels unapologetic, jangling, but most of all ready. The production throughout the track trends towards the minimalistic to accommodate Adele’s vocal might, but it is swelling numbers like “Love in the Dark” and the heavy, ringing “Sweetest Devotion” which capture the singer’s moments of unrepentance best. Piano-led “Remedy” provides a perspective shift from the desperate to the comforting, perhaps marking the most wholly matured moment on the album as Adele knowingly reassures one whose “heart makes you feel like a fool.”
“River Lea” offers an interesting opportunity, then, with its neither here nor there organ-tinged opening and intimate conversational verse. One of the more memorable tracks on an album full of solid work, the song succeeds in its self-awareness, forgoing lamentation or anger to decree “I need to learn how to be young.” It is an origin story of a global success, an uprising and a tribute all at once. On a grand scale, the album serves a similar purpose, triumphing as a fresh narrative of the not quite young and not quite old, the very grey area where Adele has currently staked her powerhouse claim. 25 is a revival album, and it is as much a tribute to love well-lost as it is to the traitorous act of getting older.
Featured Image by XL Recordings