Adele - 21 - Review
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critics' view

One of the few real beneficiaries of The X Factor effect – her version of Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love has been darting about the top 40 since the audition rounds, showing more staying power than poor Joe McElderry’s last two singles combined – Adele’s stock has risen significantly since becoming the first recipient of the Brits Critics’ Choice award. Since then she’s picked up Grammys and broken the States as a bonus, so the pressure was clearly on for her next move to deliver big. And, oh my, with 21 doesn’t she just.

The last few years have seen those who started strongly become mightily unstuck on their sophomore efforts. For every Lily Allen there’s been a Kate Nash or a Duffy – the latter’s comeback, Endlessly, seems to have fallen on significantly fewer ears than the 2.8 million who liked her debut – so it’s a treat to hear that no such problems beset 21. It really is so marvellous, you’re almost compelled to stand up and applaud it after the first listen.

With a top-notch production team behind the album, including Rick Rubin and Paul Epworth, every track is a highlight. Current single, Rolling in the Deep, is a modern soul stomper about an errant ex; the literally banging Rumour Has It channels the avenging rock‘n’roll soul of Wanda Jackson; there’s a fine, mellow, acoustic bossa nova-y take on The Cure’s Lovesong. Don’t You Remember is a classically styled ballad, which feels like the sort of tune you’ve known all your life – many are certain to bawl along to it the next time their hearts are broken; and the blues-bruised I’ll Be Waiting could’ve come from any Willie Mitchell-produced southern soul session. Final track Someone Like You, just voice and piano, is an actual thing of beauty, placing the listener in one of those moments where you feel you’re in the presence of a future standard. You can imagine it being both honked through by talent show contestants and transcended by veterans alike.

21 is simply stunning. After only a handful of plays, it feels like you’ve always known it. It will see Adele become an even greater award magnet come the end of the year, leaving her contemporaries for dust. Genuinely brilliant.

Ian Wade
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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