Sometimes an Artist just has to get hurt to record an amazing Album and that is the case with British Singer/Songwriter Adele's sophomore effort, 21. And does it ever hurt so good. It is quite astounding how polished a product the Set is compared to the double Grammy winner's debut from 2008, 19, and all it took was a bit more of a budget and the masterful production of some helping hands like Rick Rubin (Josh Groban, Red Hot Chili Peppers), Paul Epworth (Florence & The Machine), Dan Wilson (Dixie Chicks), Fraser T. Smith (Cee Lo) and Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic). 21 is an immaculately-produced collection of songs which deliver truly on the promise shown in being awarded a Critics' Choice Award at The Brits before even releasing a full-length album.
The Disc captures perfectly the emotions one might experience post-breakup - that endless fluctuating between angst, lust, revenge and ultimately forgiveness. First single Rolling in the Deep soars high with its big Chorus, with Adele reflecting upon what could've been if it weren't for his "playing her.... to the beat". Adele leaves things open-ended for a brief moment, but quickly clarifies what happened exactly in this love-gone-wrong, revealing on the gritty track Rumour Has It, that there might have been a bit of a wandering eye in this older Man with a taste for younger Women. Produced by Tedder, Adele manages successfully to maintain control of the track, refusing to let it sound like every other hit he has produced in recent memory. Turning Tables, also co-written by Tedder, is much in the same vein as Adele's earlier Hometown Glory with its euphoric piano arpeggios, strings and a mood darkened by her examining those hard feelings she still harbours which have in effect strengthened her.
21 features a strong selection of Ballads, tugging insistently on the heartstrings. Wilson adds a bit of Country flare to the album's most gorgeous ballad Don't You Remember, a likely candidate as a follow-up single with its crossover potential to a Stateside audience. The same could be said about Someone Like You, another winning collaboration with Wilson which appears late.
Set Fire to the Rain produced by Smith, nails all the right emotional notes, sitting somewhere in-between tearful sorrow and all-consuming rage just as its title suggests. The organic sounds of the strings and piano here heighten this track just perfectly - a sonic victory. Two contributions from producer Epworth titled He Won't Go and I'll Be Waiting are loaded with soulful gumption and more bottom-heavy than what we're used to from Adele; an added dimension to her repertoire.
The most surprising moment on the Album comes late in a cover of The Cure's Lovesong, which is given an Acoustic/Bossa Nova treatment, plus an Accordion thrown in for ambiance and good measure. A stunning display of Adele's musicianship and keen interpretive sense.
Without a weak link to be found, Adele's 21 through and through is a Masterpiece. It is a defiant statement to those who doubted that the Big Girl from London had any longevity in her. The Album hits stores in Canada on February 22, 2011. Grade: A+