Aside from the mountains of cash, the fabulous manicures and ceiling-scraping blow-dries, the adulation of millions and being born with the gift of a golden voice, it can’t have been easy being Adele of late. It’s got to be pretty scary following up one of the most successful albums ever – 2011’s ‘21’ is the fourth best selling in UK chart history – even if you know your new one’s a dead cert for number one (‘25’ is expected to sell between 1.3 and 1.8 million copies in its first week).
On ’25’ we discover the 27-year-old’s response to such a dilemma is a sensible – if not entirely novel – one. This is the sound of someone playing the game so safely they might as well have strapped on shin-pads and a crash helmet.
With Adele’s sophisticated, emotive vocals unsurprisingly front and centre of all 11 tracks, we sashay from moody balladeering to smoky jazz bar grooves by way of West End worthy showtunes. ‘25’ is not an experimental voyage of the kind Fleetwood Mac made with 1979’s ‘Tusk’ or a try at fashionable hip-hop strain trap. It’s not even home to a single curveball. For her core fanbase this probably comes as sweet relief.
The closest ‘25’ gets to springing a surprise is on ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’. With pop professor Max Martin (who’s scored hits for everyone from Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift) on perky production duties, she comes over like a softcore MIA, bouncing along a Femfreshed dancehall chorus, wishing her ex and their new squeeze well and sounding like she’s having a right laugh.
But from then on, it’s an unapologetic return to ‘Rolling In The Deep’ style high drama. Swathed in candle-lit mysticism and with a whisper of Gregorian chanting, ‘I Miss You’ sees Adele going full Florence (unsurprisingly given the co-writing and production credit for Paul Epworth, who has previous with both Flo and Adele). Over velvety doom-pop she urges a lover to “kiss me back to life”. ‘River Lea’ continues in the same ballsy vein, a strutting, modern gospel Danger Mouse production that references her Tottenham roots. ‘Water Under The Bridge’ brings yet more bombast, with Adele belting out another dramatic diary entry to her ex.
Vocally, however, she impresses most when she brings thing down a couple of notches. Against gently plucked acoustic guitar on ‘Million Years Ago’ she channels the hushed sensuality of 1950s jazz pinup Julie London with gloriously intimate results.
Yet you just can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is just far too safe. You can’t blame team Adele for following a formula that has so far resulted in 30 million album sales – but here’s to a little more innovation on ‘29’.