With the success of 2011’s 21, Adele left herself with a seemingly insurmountable task of creating a record that not only garners the same acclaim but delivers an even greater artistic effort.
Instead of living up to the challenge, 25, released Friday, responds in a sensible manner, sporting all the signs of a safe project designed to create a wide appeal.
Exhibiting extremely similar styles and endeavors to 21, Adele’s shining voice takes center stage on every song of this 48-minute record, fluctuating between her typical peaks and valleys to help place the listener in a blend of old-school jazz and ’80s R&B. Beyond Adele’s singing, there’s not a single moment on 25 that comes as a surprise.
25 is the product of several years of strained songwriting. The British singer-songwriter suffered from writer’s block during her break but later found inspiration to compose a self-declared “make-up record” about her old self, full of nostalgia, melancholy and regret — the same themes of 21.
This isn’t to say the old Adele isn’t welcome. The acoustic guitar-based “Million Years Ago” shows exactly why people love the artist. Her ability to channel an era of inspiration — in this case ’50s jazz — is almost unmatched among modern top 40 stars.
For single-oriented fans, “Hello” and “When We Were Young” cater precisely to what most listeners want out of Adele — an emotional ballad, backed by piano chords and predictable shifts in mood. Anyone looking to find the unexpected on 25 is limited to just one track. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” features the 27-year-old wishing her ex well with his new relationship in a slightly unexpected and humorous manner. The relaxed style she displays in her tone of voice is a refreshing moment from her typically heavy material.
25 needs more of these moments. Adele can’t always be as solemn as her music makes her seem, and her relentless drive to channel every negative emotion she has into her music without any variance in style or approach can make her music feel repetitive.
The main distinction between this product and its predecessor is its use of electronic instruments. With liner notes riddled with some of the biggest names in pop, including Danger Mouse, Max Martin and Greg Kurstin, 25 uses synths and electronic beats to help create a rhythmic outline similar to that of R&B from the 1980s. This might sound intriguing, but the production falls right into the same rut created in 21.
Unlike most releases, 25 forces the consumer to make a purchasing decision. Adele and her record label decided to not stream her newest project, and with good reason. 25 is on pace to become the fastest selling album in the U.S. since NSYNC’s No Strings Attached, even without streaming revenue. This means fans won’t be able to preview 25 before purchasing it, but the decision itself is straight-forward — buy 25 if you’re already an Adele fan and listen to the singles on YouTube if you aren’t.
25 is the emotional blockbuster previous Adele fans want it to be, but for all other music fans, it follows the formula too closely to become as big as its hype. It’s a safe move guaranteed to garner massive sales figures and acclaim, and it’s hard to blame Adele for sticking to her guns on this one — at the expense of squandering opportunity to show something new to a wide audience.