It’s hard not to feel a tad sorry for Adele Adkins. Only a couple of months ago she was a 19 year old singer/songwriter from North London, with one single on Jamie T‘s label under her belt and shielded from the often crushing weight of expectations.
Suddenly, everything’s changed. She’s signed to XL (home of The White Stripes, M.I.A. and, albeit temporarily, Radiohead), been named the BBC’s Sound Of 2008, been awarded the inaugural BRITS Critic Choice award, and rechristened by all and sundry ‘the new Amy Winehouse‘ – although presumably without that pesky drug habit and troublesome husband.
So it’s understandable if a lot of people approach 19 expecting to hear something radical and life-altering. Which they won’t, inevitably. However, if the unasked for hype can be discarded for a moment, Adele’s debut album reveals itself to be a superior pop/soul album – not without its flaws admittedly, but guaranteed to one of the more enjoyable listens of the year.
Adele’s voice has been much discussed, and it’s true to say that she sounds quite extraordinary at times. Her vocals sound best with sparse instrumentation, such as on the lovely Daydreamer, the album’s opener. It’s just Adele with a gently plucked acoustic guitar, leaving her voice to swoop and soar without ever giving into that annoying Mariah Carey habit of attempting to sing every note within a verse.
It’s a similar story with First Love, a gently sparse ballad where Adele sounds genuinely sorrowful as she breaks up with her lover, and Chasing Pavements (surely destined to be Adele’s equivalent of Kate Nash‘s Foundations) has a wonderfully uplifting chorus that stays in the memory for a very long time.
Of course, there’s also Hometown Glory, most people’s initial introduction to Adele, which closes the album. It’s another love song, but this time to her home city, and it still sends goosebumps up and down the spine as Adele paints an affectionate picture of the capital city backed only by some stately piano chords. Expect it to be used for TV programme’s incidental music for some months to come.
Not everything works so well though. At only 19, it’s perhaps unrealistic to expect Adele to produce with an album which is ‘all killer, no filler’. Some of the tracks here, such as Crazy For You and Tired, lean towards the Corinne Bailey Rae school of ‘great voice, shame about the song’. Some of it also feels a bit too familiar – Cold Shoulder swipes the introduction to Massive Attack‘s Unfinished Sympathy more or less wholesale, while Right As Rain could easily sit on any anonymous RnB pop album from the last 12 months.
Yet just when you start to think that Adele’s not all that special, she pulls out a heart-stoppingly lovely rendition of Bob Dylan‘s much covered Make You Feel My Love and reclaims the song for herself. No doubt this will be many newlywed’s ‘first dance’ song of choice in the future.
19 is a decent debut album that will sell by the bucketload and propel Adele to the inevitable success she’s been widely tipped for. It may not be particularly original or challenging, but there’s enough positive signs here to bode extremely well for the future. The sound of 2008? And beyond, we’d imagine.