Adele - 21
Not magical. 21, which arrives two years after bucketload-shifting debut 19 (clearly those years in the Brit School weren't just spent practising scales) is different enough (just) from its predecessor to warrant attention - but nowhere near inspired enough to make it feel your love. Compiled under the guise of a move away from the soulful balladry of her first album, with more groove and more roots, 21 delivers only occasionally on the promises it makes. After a surging start and a couple of real aces to kick things off ('Rumour Has It' and the Hiawatha thrum of 'Rolling in the Deep'), the pace, almost inevitably, slows and from then on it becomes a trial to stay involved.
She's been shown a disservice by The Machine, to be fair. That Brit Award before she'd even caught her breath, the flurry of over-eager tastemakers keen to hold her up as a new 'voice', a songwriter of substance, a mature-beyond-her-years chronicler of the broken-hearted. No-one's denying her conviction and composure, that she gobs all over the giggling chart tarts - indeed that may well be part of the problem. When you really dig down, the truth gets ugly and a few problems emerge. Lyrically, 21 is just too pedestrian, filled with plain, unseasoned tales of boys who done the girl wrong. Vocally there are question marks, too. In essence, of course, the voice itself is fine but at times her technique makes you question what direction she's had from the mixing desk. Check out how she brays all over the chorus of 'Don't You Remember' to see just how easily more becomes less.
21 really falls down when it re-hashes the 'Chasing Pavements' formula. Every other song seems to start with that minor key descending piano figure. Of course, she's right when she condemns lazy comparions with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Duffy, but their truckload-shifting big sellers were expertly shepherded - produced to military levels but, certainly in the case of Back to Black, packed to bursting with irresistible tunes and hints of a deep, dark underbelly.
Ultimately, the clean soul backing of21 is just too humdrum, and it's the songs that suffer. Aside from a handful of likeable stompers, the reliance on hushed balladry casts a cold pall. A tepid cover of The Cure's 'Love Song' is nothing but baffling, and the closing 'Someone Like You' sounds so like The Script's 'The Man Who Can't Be Moved' it boggles the mind as to how it made through the door. Albums have been recalled for less. Tut tut. If Adele had the fire and spark to tear it up like her heroes, offered up, say, some Etta James brimstone, she'd be playing to what would surely be her real strengths. Supporters will offer congratulation that someone so young made this album. Piffle. For one so young, sounding old is just so..., well, old. And borrowing from dreary soft rock outfits is plain embarrassing.