Here’s an important reminder for you:
Adele just does her own thing.
She doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t care what’s conventional in pop music.
And she’s completely brilliant.
You’ve probably heard most of the tracks off of Adele’s highly popular and award-winning 2015 album 25 at this point. If you didn’t listen to them directly, they’ve seeped into your consciouness through speakers in the environment-at-large, whether you were at a mall, a grocery store, a friend’s house, or near a bored guy outside a gas station with a boom box because I guess I’m still living in the nineties.
The cover art is just this big shot of her head looking at the camera. Which is great. It’s not over-produced. It’s not “cool.” It’s just here is my face deal with it.
Every single track is mixed the same way the album cover is shot. The emphasis is predominantly in Adele’s voice, which is smack dab in the center of the image.
When instruments are used, composition is subtle and withdrawn and raw. The instruments exist only to highlight Adele’s voice, so you can hear every word she’s singing no matter how much complex stuff is going on in the rest of the music.
Most of the songs are longer than the average pop song. Much longer. Minutes longer! And it’s totally fine. Most of the songs are strangely repetitive, but only to drive their points home, not because they’re relying on a catchy pop hook to get stuck in your head. The songs take exactly as long as they take.
The album is genre-defying, drawing on all sorts of musical styles. The second track, “Send my Love(to your new lover)” masquerades as a simple acoustic unplugged track for a few seconds before becoming immediately more involved, which is a great bit of subversion.
“Alex you got this far and you didn’t talk about ‘Hello.’”
I know. What more could be said about “Hello?” It’s a great song. It has almost no lyrical diversity in it compared to even the most average pop song…but it somehow still really works. Adele pushes life into it entirely though charismatic performance.
But it’s not the best song on the album WAIT COME BACK!
My favorite song on the album is “When We Were Young.”
This is the business right here. It perfectly exemplifies the audacious style of the rest of the album. It’s like the theme song to a fictional 80’s oscar-winning movie and I love it.
I talked a little about the mixing at the top of the article, but I didn’t mention how well 25 uses the whole frequency range of human hearing. It’s a wonderful album for testing headphones. Adele’s voice will show you the limits of your headphone’s midrange, and the instruments and background vocals should float gently around you without being over-emphasized. The use of several acoustic elements gives the whole thing that detail that headphone fans crave.
And the bass. I know, when you think of bass-heavy tracks, you’re probably not thinking about Adele. But there’s some really good bass across this whole album. Not thumpy stupid subwoofer explosion bass, but melodic wonderful “ooooh that’s the stuff” bass.
Adele’s 25 feels like it was created because Adele liked it, and for no other reason. It truly deserves all the accolades it has received over the last couple of years. If you’re a creator, it’s a testament to the power of doing your own thing and being your own audience. We would all be so lucky to have half the charisma, audacity, and ambition that Adele had making this album.
In a world of over-mixed pop stars created entirely in the studio, Adele’s 25 is still just as relevant as it was 2 years ago. And I imagine it will never age.
Hell, even the title is bold. “Look what I did at the age of 25 you scumbags, try and match it! Come on then!”
I doubt Adele would actually use the word scumbags but I’m using my imagination here.
If you haven’t heard these songs in a while, or if you’ve only heard them over little speakers at your local coffee shop, I urge you to revisit them and give them a listen. I bet the minutes will just melt away.