That voice. It knocks the wind out of you upon first listen, leaving your mouth agape, gasping for air. For her sophomore release, 21, Adele Atkins powerhouse vocals take the driver’s seat, resigning super producers Paul Epworth (Florence + the Machine, Kate Nash), Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks), Ryan Tedder (Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson), Dan Wilson (Dixie Chicks), and Fraser T. Smith (Cee Lo Green, Taio Cruz) to build music around her rafter-rattling pipes. And that they do, letting Adele’s voice vacillate between styles in blues, country, and soul-tinged tracks.
For an album that could have easily spiraled into a genre-hopping grab bag, Adele infuses her vocal performances in 21 with impassioned intensity, grit, and raw vulnerability. The album’s opening track and debut single, “Rolling in the Deep,” assembles hand claps, gospel-style backing vocals, and a whumping kick drum to build a legitimate soul barn burner. Similarly, “Rumor Has It,” utilizes the same raw materials with a tough-as-nails bite from Adele. Other standout tracks include the syncopated subtleties of “He Won’t Go,” the exuberant horns of “I’ll Be Waiting,” and “One and Only,” a Motown-style track which deftly showcases Adele’s unvarnished guttural wail.
While there is a lot here to praise, 21 falls short is in its heavy reliance on down-tempo power ballads to exhibit Adele’s powerful pipes. Yes, the girl can sing, but let her have a little fun in the process. For “Don’t You Remember,” a winsome country twang can’t save the song’s overwrought and melodramatic leanings. The album could also be well-served by a shuffle in the track listing. After barreling through the record’s first two high-energy tracks, the album slams on the brakes, not fully recovering its pace until track eight. One thing is clear, with 21, Adele rightfully pulls away from the pack of Brit-soul exports who rose to stardom when the Winehouse bubble burst.
Timbre Tantrum’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.