Exploring Adele’s canon through the ages

Exploring Adele’s canon through the ages

Photo Credits: JOELLE TAHTA / AGGIE

How “19,” “21” and “25”  compare 

Adele has the ability to make the world stop and listen. She has a grasp on her own voice that is unheard of in contemporary pop. Over the course of her incredibly successful career, she has released only three albums, each titled by the age she was when she wrote them. In honor of her rumored upcoming release, let’s see how well the albums hold up when they’re compared to each other.

3) “25”

Adele’s most recent album is not bad by any means, it just falls short compared to its predecessors (Adele, if you’re reading this, I love you and I’m sorry). “25” follows her established themes of heartbreak and youth with a new added element of growth. Its lead single “Hello” won three Grammys and was on the radio for months. Unlike its sister singles, it simply does not have the longevity. After hearing it on the radio three times a day and in every store I set foot into, those ominous piano chords cause my brain to immediately shut down. The following singles, “When We Were Young,” “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” and “Water Under the Bridge” are all incredible additions to the Adele songbook, but this album’s real gems are hidden between its singles. 

The tenth track, “All I Ask,” feels like this album’s “Make You Feel My Love.” The ballad, co-written with Bruno Mars, showcases her vocals like we’ve never heard before. Surprisingly, it is one of her catchiest songs (it makes for really great belting material). Her vocals are accompanied solely by sweeping piano melodies. You can tell that when she was in the studio she was thinking, “Yeah this one’s gonna make ‘em sob, innit?”

The lightly-produced folk track “Million Years Ago” communicates a yearning for her old self. It fits perfectly in the album and showcases an intense fear of fame that wasn’t apparent in any of her previous songs. It is also extremely painful and relatable for a college freshman (“Miss my friends, I miss my mother”).

“River Lea” is like no other Adele song. It’s hard to communicate the way the track makes you feel; I would equate it to going all the way around on a swing or whatever Ophelia was feeling in the painting “Ophelia.” It has a supernatural element emphasized by the backing gospel vocals. The haunting lyrics paired with the build of the production culminate into the best song on “25” and one of the best she’s ever released.

Though its singles don’t match up to her previous work, “25” holds some of Adele’s best tracks. More than anything else, it proves that she is an artist with incredible introspective ability and the capability to keep making hits in the face of change.

2) “19”

You can hear her accent on this album, and it’s funny to hear her say “fink,” so we’re already off to a great start. The fact that Adele wrote “19” at 19-years-old is both impressive and terrifying — both because of the lyrical quality and because she sings with the soul of someone who has definitely lived more than two complete decades. Overall, it is experimental in ways that “25” failed to be and includes some of her best, most underrated singles.

Unlike “25,” “19” is carried by its singles. One of her funkier songs, “Cold Shoulder,” propelled her to fame when she performed it on “Saturday Night Live” in 2008. The track is produced by Mark Ronson, and you can tell. Taking into account the quick beat and belting vocals, I honestly believe that, with a little work, it could be the new cup song.

If you are ranking Adele songs in how fun they are to sing along to, “Chasing Pavements” may take the top spot. I cannot understand anything she says in the first 30 seconds, but it only adds to the wonderful mystery of the song. It is soulful and balances her powerful building vocals with an orchestra-like production. Perhaps no song better illustrates the feeling of looking out the window of a car when it’s raining.

“Make You Feel My Love” establishes itself as the strongest track on the album. 

Only backed by piano and light violin, her voice is out in the open. There is a rawness that she froze in time — it lets the listener apply the lyrics to their own heartbreak. Until recently, I did not know the song was a cover (apologies to Bob Dylan and his fans, but his version is way worse). She truly makes the song her own. I listened to her version while writing this, and the only word that came to mind was “pain.” 

With solid singles and unique production, “19” set the foundation for the career of one of the greatest vocalists we have ever seen.

1) “21”

“21”…where do we even start? I feel like I don’t even have to explain how iconic this album is. Adele strayed from the hopelessness that guided “19” and opted for an upbeat take. This was perhaps her greatest career decision. “21” is the best-selling album of its decade and three of its singles peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The entire album is well produced, and no track feels out of place.

“21” had five singles released over the course of one year: “Rolling in the Deep,”  genuinely one of the greatest songs of all time; “Someone Like You,” the iconic, emotion-drenched ballad; “Set Fire to the Rain,” which has the overwhelming ability to make me feel like I’m in The Hunger Games; “Rumor Has It,” featuring mesmerizing pounding drums and undeniable catchiness; and, finally, the unforgettable vocal masterpiece that is “Turning Tables.” My hands are shaking from typing the song names… I cannot comprehend this much power being on one album. They create the greatest combination of singles ever.

Even the lesser-known songs have the ability to be singles. “He Won’t Go,” “Take It All” and “Don’t You Remember” all have the magnetic quality the songs listed above have, but are less popular only because they were never prompted to single status.

In addition to having the best singles and side tracks, “21” includes the best song Adele has ever released: “One and Only.” The feeling that the six minutes of “One and Only” instills in listeners is unlike any of her other songs. This could be attributed to its stellar melody and vocals or its larger-than-normal production, but it really boils down to her intention. In a behind-the-scenes interview about “21,” Adele described the track as “the first happy song I had ever written.” It’s addicting, intoxicating and fun. With the overall quality of each and every song, It is undeniable that “21” is her strongest piece of work

Adele has made headlines recently for her divorce, with rumors swirling about her having to pay her ex-husband massive amounts of money. This obviously stressful and painful situation is not an opportunity for our own gain. That being said, I am incredibly excited for how much emotion this upcoming album will hold. (Once again, Adele, if you are reading this, we have built up three years of emotions and will eat up whatever you put out). In the end, every song she has released is incredible, just put her discography on shuffle. Here’s to 30!

Written by: Livvy Mullen — arts@theaggie.org