in 2008, I discovered Adele’s first album, 19. “Hometown Glory”, commemorating her love for her city, hit a special chord. “Chasing Pavements” perfectly captures the, at times, hopeless uncertainty of love (of all sorts), and before long, I was hooked. Of course Adele 21’s rapid rise secured her her now massive fan base, so the hype for this album might have scared me away from an immediate listen. Nothing, I thought, could top “Take it All” of 21 or the more mellow tracks of 19. When I finally purchased the album, my initial thoughts were confirmed. “Hello” had no meaning for me. “River Lea” bored me so much that I had to skip it. “Sweetest Devotion” wanted to ooze soul, but it fell flat. I was utterly disappointed.
After a week of mourning the loss of Adele’s heyday, I decided to give 25 another chance. The upbeat rhythm of “Send My Love” had me entertained. “Water Under the Bridge” purely continued the tradition of uncertainty in love. “Million Years Ago” seems like a response to my all time favorite “Hometown Glory. After finishing the album, I realized why I was so bored by the album before: I was expecting heartache, songs of betrayal, the same teenage/early twenties fire that 19 and 21 had provided me. But Adele is different: she has a kid now, and a longtime boyfriend. It would be bizarre for her, and her lover I’m sure, to sing the same songs of unfulfillment that she did before.
Now that I have moved on from my initial expectations of the overall sentiment of the songs, I have come to the conclusion that her album is supposed to both celebrate and mourn change for all its positives and negatives. She is self-aware in the album, not pretending to be “just another artist”, and as a result, she comes across as more genuine than many of her counterparts. I particularly like “Million Years Ago.” It begins with a sort of Spanish guitar melody, and then Adele’s soft mournful, voice comes on. She sings of how she’s treated in her hometown—of how fame has turned her into a stranger. She looks in the mirror and sees someone who cannot relate to her people the way she did before. It’s a stark contrast to the participatory Adele from “Hometown Glory”, but in both cases, there is a love for her hometown that feels, at times, not reciprocated.
“When We Were Young” is another favorite of mine–for similar reason. It reflects a longing for the past that is subtle and not overwhelming. She understands that relationships fall apart, but she can still honor a love that made her feel young.
Final thoughts: In 2008, I thought of Adele as old because I was only eleven. Even in her early albums, she had a maturity to her lyrics that I can only compare to Laura Marling (released her first and most amazing album at 16.) So in a way, I never thought of Adele as “young.” In that sense, this album gave me a totally new perspective on her. While I thought her “Chasing Pavements” was a wise reflection on being strung along, she thought she was an insecure and uncertain teenager unable to decide who to love. 25 is a perfect complement to her earlier albums in that it is something totally different, but it still recognizes who she was before and how change can remind us, and perhaps make us long, for who we were before. “Hometown Glory” may still be her glory days, but that’s the point she’s trying to make. And her lyrical and vocal genius does so beautifully.