REVIEW / SOUL/POP
How does British singer Adele follow up an album as critically and commercially successful as 2011's 21, one of the most feted contemporary albums in recent times?
Her answer - craft a cohesive collection of new songs that play to her strengths - bittersweet love songs with the right amount of tenderness as a foil for the big, bombastic choruses that showcase her glorious voice.
Full-blooded, earthy and nimble, the 27-year-old's distinctive mezzo-soprano vocals are on full display on the 11 tracks, tapping into a gamut of emotions, not to mention setting her apart from other torch singers and saving the new songs from sappy, MOR hell.
Like her previous two LPs (which include 2008's 19), the title of the new album is based on her age when she wrote the songs.
And here, like in her earlier works, it is her ability to tackle life's emotional moments with a maturity well beyond her years that makes the songs compelling enough for repeated listening.
There are plenty of ruminations on the past, most evidently on When We Were Young, co-written with indie wunderkind Tobias Jesso Jr., that features a classic, torch song build-up.
It is her ability to tackle life's emotional moments with a maturity well beyond her years that makes the songs compelling enough for repeated listening.''
She revisits the vagaries of youth again on Million Years Ago ("I let my heart decide the way / When I was young"), the sole acoustic guitar ballad with a melody reminiscent of the Phantom Of The Opera theme.
Send My Love (To Your New Lover) is almost a dance-pop tune, albeit a raw, stripped-down one produced and co-written with Swedish pop wizard Max Martin, the man behind Taylor Swift, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys, and part of an A-team of producers and co-songwriters that include Ryan Tedder and Bruno Mars.
On River Lea, Adele addresses her insecurities ("Sometimes I feel lonely in the arms of your touch / But I know that's just me cause nothing ever is enough") while producer and collaborator Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys) infuses it with a swagger and chorus chants.
The anxiety is alluded to again on I Miss You ("I miss you when the lights go out / It illuminates all of my doubts") with its slow galloping drums and tension-building arrangements.
In a way, the things that make 25 work are also the same things that hold the album back.
This was a chance for her to bury past heartbreak - the inspiration for so much of her previous work - and plunge headlong into life- affirming tunes that celebrate hope and the future.
After all, she had promised in an earlier social media post a "make-up" record to counter the "break-up" songs on 21.
The uplift moments are few and far between, which makes album closer Sweetest Devotion the most compelling track in this collection.
Seemingly inspired by her becoming a mother ("I wasn't ready then, I'm ready now / I'm heading straight for you / You will only be eternally / The one that I belong to"), it is the uplifting track that one wishes 25 had more of.
•25 is now available on iTunes at $11.98 for the whole album