The Voice of Healing and Heartbreak

 

Album art for Adele's 25
(Courtesy of XL Recordings)

Adele has an unusual ability to sway pop culture. Unlike the slew of basic pop artists like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and Ke$ha, Adele doesn’t try to hypnotize the masses with dance breaks or repetitive melodies. Instead, she offers crooning vocals atop simple, soulful blues. She exceeds the popularity of other pop artists with a universally accessible style of truly quality music. Adele is different. She determines the nature of pop, rather than feeds into it. Adele doesn’t make what the masses want, the masses want what Adele makes.

Adele, who held the iTunes top selling song and top selling album with her release of 25, has set the record for highest-selling album in the U.S. A reference to her debut album 21, 25 chronicles the rebuilding of self and independence in the aftermath of a break-up. The names of both albums are inspired by her age when she wrote them, and when viewed as two halves of a set, show Adele’s journey from heartbreak to new love.

There is no doubt the albums belong together; they complete a ballad of love lost and found again. Even the covers seem to match: both feature a profile shot of Adele in grayscale. In both cases, the effect is striking, and reflects the essence of each album. In 21, Adele’s downcast face shows traces of girlhood; she is vulnerable, hurt, downtrodden. In 25, we see Adele lift her eyes to the camera, her face raw with emotion and her eyes looking into the distance. Though Adele’s lyrics focus on romance, we can see that the cores of of 21 and 25 are about growing up. The Adele we see on 21 is a broken-hearted girl, but by 25, Adele is strong and resilient, undoubtedly a woman.

While not many know it, Adele’s breakthrough album 21 was precursed by 19, which Adele recorded in college. Like the teenager she was, 19 is emotional, eclectic, and experimental. Adele’s unique choice to chronicle her own life experiences as she ages is a show of courage, a diary for all the world to read, or in this case, hear. While nearly everyone is familiar with hits such as Hello, Turning Tables, and Rolling in the Deep, not many have listened to Adele’s albums as they were written to be: sequels of her life and emotions.

Listening through Adele’s albums requires time, patience, and a love of heartfelt blues. Even exploring just 21 and 25 as a set is worthwhile, and tells a story more complete than any found in the albums individually. Starting with Rolling in the Deep, Adele sets the themes of romance and impending heartbreak. These ideas carry us into the climax of 21, Set Fire to the Rain, where Adele fights against her sorrows, setting fire to the rain. By the end of the album, the conflict has resolved with a resolution to find new love, heard in Someone Like You.

25 kicks off with Hello, a revisitation of the love lost in 21. In the songs that follow, we learn that leaving her lover has forced Adele to mature as an individual, and we explore the struggle, nostalgia, and lingering emotions that formed from the aftermath of 21. As we reach the last song, Sweetest Devotion, we find that Adele has formed a new love: one for her daughter.
Though the majority of her songs deal with love and relationships, the heart of Adele’s records are about growing up. The emotional journey through 21 and 25 leaves us with thoughts and tears, but also a sense of completeness from these coming-of-age albums.