If you go into 25, Adele’s new album, hoping for another 21, you will be severely disappointed.
The third (and apparently final) entry into Adele’s age-centric discography is its own unique entity that reflects a critical turning point in the famed singer’s life: adulthood. Not the adulthood of legal ages or fresh college grads, but the adulthood that encroaches with responsibility, overcoming identity crises, maturing relationships and in Adele’s case, parenthood, global success and Grammy-winning, Oscar-winning, record-smashing achievements. On this album, her narrative is a bittersweet, nostalgia-heavy farewell to the recklessness, amusements, love and heartache of days past, a journey that purposely departs from the tumultuous and into newer, possibly greener pastures.
Between “When We Were Young” (co-written by Canadian Tobias Jesso Jr.), the uptempo gospel “River Lea” and the forlorn retrospective “Million Years Ago”, that story isn’t too hard to find; in fact, in many ways, it feels like a circular journey to the yesteryears of 19, the debut that brought “Hometown Glory” and “Chasing Pavements“. This time, it’s more about coming to terms with the wishes of what could have been and the things that are.
Part of the wonder of 25 is that there are several moments in Adele’s confrontational journey disguised as radio hits and platforms for stadium sing-a-longs. The belting lead single “Hello”, a magnet for Lionel Richie memes and break up text messages, is one example; the snappy, Max Martin (pop studio king; he’s worked with everyone from NSYNC* to Backstreet Boys to Katy Perry)-produced “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, is another; and lest we forget the Bruno Mars-co-written ballad “All I Ask”, where Adele sings “It matters how this ends/Cause what if I never love again?”
The other part of this album’s wonder is that there are so many beautifully-constructed moments that openly welcome Adele’s new emotional era. Sonically, “Water Under the Bridge” and “Remedy” rely on 90s-tinged production and structure, ultimately driven by Adele’s triumphant vocals to deliver the epic quality we’ve come to hope for from her. The latter particularly swells with unconditional love, one that bursts and seeps via earworm “Sweetest Devotion”, produced by 21 headmaster Paul Epworth. Between that and “I Miss You” (also produced by Epworth), Adele carves new levels of depth that 21, in all its emotional complexities, did not quite get to in the same way.
Yet, the assurance, vulnerability and growth that 21 displayed, especially in comparison to 19, continues to thrive on 25, just on another plane. This album exists because it maintains that same level of self-actualization that 21 showcased, but it does so in a period of Adele’s life that demands differently of her. It’s really an incredible representation of those who are negotiating this space between regret and acceptance, who are experiencing tectonic shifts self-perception and who are welcoming the days to come with a clearer heart. This is identifiable for so many, particular to this age or not.
And so no, 25 is not 21. It doesn’t need to be, because we’ve learned how to mourn, cope and survive. Now we need to learn how to move on.
Overall Rating: 9/10 Favourite Songs: “I Miss You”, “Sweetest Devotion”, “River Lea” and “Hello”