Adele Adkins’ retro-soul debut, 19, was striking less for her songs than for that voice: a voluptuous, slightly parched alto that swooped and fluttered like a Dusty Springfield student trying to upstage her teacher, or at least update the rules. Now that she’s legal — 21 refers to her age when she wrote these songs — Adele has toughened her tone, trimmed the jazz frippery and sounds ready for a pub fight. “Go ahead and sell me out/And I’ll lay your shit bare,” she promises an ex-lover on “Rolling in the Deep,” a soul burner with hand claps and a kick drum whumping like a fist on a sandbag. (The new approach seems to be working: 21 has already topped the charts in eight countries.)
The A-list hitmakers are here: Paul Epworth (Kate Nash, Cee Lo Green), Ryan Tedder (Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson), Dan Wilson (Dixie Chicks), Fraser T. Smith (Taio Cruz). Adele has real chemistry with Epworth; check his old-school/new-school magic act on the R&B co-write “He Won’t Go,” which gets some lean production from Rick Rubin. She clicks less with Wilson, whose power ballads (excepting the gospel-powered “One and Only”) try too hard. The woman is mutable, sometimes to a fault: Her cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong” is a nice idea lost in bossa nova fluff. But when the grooves are fierce, Adele gives as good as she gets.
Harry Styles Grammys Dancers Say Set Malfunction Forced Them to ‘Reverse’ Performance Live
Pink Floyd Lyricist Calls Roger Waters ‘Putin Apologist' and ‘Lip-Synching' Misogynist
Kelly Clarkson Rivals Adele's Vocals in New ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ Cover
Well, Trump Is Now Suggesting Ron DeSantis Is a Pedophile
Listen to “Rolling in the Deep”: