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Album review: Adele's '21'

February 21, 2011 |  7:33 pm

21Adele Two particular songs on "21," Adele's accomplished follow-up to her debut, "19," both named for the age at which she recorded them, marvelously bookend the singer's twin talents for characterization in song and pure blowsy strength, the kind that could rip out a cornfield by the roots.

One of those songs, "I'll Be Waiting," highlights Adele's heartbroken resiliency. Produced by Paul Epworth and co-written with Adele, "I'll Be Waiting" is a neo-soul sashay, swishing with confidence and brio, and it inspires the singer to push her vocal expressions into sweet howls reminiscent of Dusty Springfield, another Brit deeply influenced by American country and soul. "I'll be somebody different," Adele sings, not as concession but as exuberant promise, "I'll be better to you."

It figures then that the other track that gives Adele ample ground for theatrics, albeit of a more moody ilk, is another contribution from Epworth, who's also worked with Cee Lo Green and Florence and the Machine. "Rolling in the Deep," the album's first single, provides Adele with the perfect stormy vessel; her voice tossing and turning, shipwrecked and mad but never losing control.

There are other worthy tracks on "21," like the Rick Rubin-produced "He Won't Go," with its elegant piano and ticking beat, and the softly sentimental "Turning Tables," but they don't scrape at an exciting greatness the way the other two do. Occasionally, Adele finds herself in lesser territory, like "Don't You Remember," which sounds overwrought in both construction and performance.

Overall, "21" shows that Adele, now 22, is towering in the same landscape where some of her contemporaries, beehived or not, have lost all their bearings. Who knows what damage she'll exact for "30," but let's hope Epworth is along for the ride.

-- Margaret Wappler

Adele
"21"
Columbia
Three stars (Out of four)

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