Originally posted December 30, 2011. Last updated March 1, 2019.
|Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)|
Released: January 19, 2011
Sales (in millions): 14.0 US, 4.9 UK, 30.0 world (includes US and UK)
Peak: #123 US, #123 UK, #132 AU, #135 CN
Genre: pop/British blue-eyed soul
Quotable: “Pop music should take more cues from Adele and this album.” – Nick Freed, Consequence of Sound
“Adele’s 2009 debut album, 19, was a Grammy-winning smash hit that revealed the British singer/songwriter’s knack for bittersweet soul and folk-infused love songs that brought to mind an infectious mix of Dusty Springfield and Terry Callier. The album earned her a ton of fans, and interest was high for the inevitable follow-up.” MC
“In many ways, her sophomore album, the similarly age-appropriate-titled 21, is a continuation of the sounds and themes Adele was working with on 19. She is still the bluesy pop diva with a singer/songwriter’s soul and seemingly bottomless capacity for heartbreak.” MC “She is able to avoid the pitfalls of sappiness and triteness that can easily come with the lovelorn, and instead comes across as mature and headstrong, though maybe a little lost.” NF “The best thing the album does is to showcase Adele’s titanic vocal ability, which – more than a few times on 21 – is simply spine-tingling.” MC
The album was primarily produced by Rick Rubin in Malibu, California, and Paul Epworth in London. WK Adele described the album as “different from 19; it’s about the same things but in a different light.” WK BBC Music called the album “simply stunning” and “genuinely brilliant” WK while the Herald Sun said that the album is “further evidence that Adele is something special.” WK Will Dean of The Guardian called it “a progressive, grown-up second collection” WK while Bernadette McNulty of The Telegraph said with her “voice that goes straight to the heart” “she out-divas them all.” WK
“Last time around we got the…folk-soul ballad ‘Daydreamer’ to slowly draw us into the album; here, Adele immediately injects us with the propulsive gospel fever-blues anthem Rolling in the Deep.” MC Adele describes the song as “a dark bluesy gospel disco tune.” WK “It is also ridiculously sexy and one of the best singles of any decade.” MC “The quiet, muffled, and steady opening guitar line fits like a glove under Adele’s raspy alto voice.” NF “The beat drives and stomps you into a frenzy. The Supremes-esque backing vocals complement the banging piano and jangling tambourine, while Adele lets her voice loose.” NF
That song landed at #2 on the U.K. charts, but the follow-up, Someone Like You, gave Adele her first #1, coming on the heels of her performance of the song at the 2011 Brit Awards. Meanwhile, “Deep” was still in the top 5 and over on the album chart, 21 was at #1 for a fourth week while the 19 album recharted in the top 5. It gave Adele the rare feat of being the first living artist since the Beatles in 1964 to have two top 5 hits on both the singles and albums charts in the U.K.
“Elsewhere, we get tracks like the blues-inflected Ryan Tedder [singer/songwriter from OneRepublic] co-write Rumour Has It and the old-school-style soul cut He Won’t Go, which are terrifically catchy, booty-shaking numbers and exactly the kind of songs you want and expect from Adele.” MC The latter is one of the album’s “angrier songs” NF “Seeing this song live or in a stripped down setting would make one bawl like a child. You’ll want to pump your fist and pound your chest.” NF
Turning Tables is a piano ballad with another Tedder co-write and was produced by Jim Abbiss. Dan Wilson helped write the “country style ballad” Don’t You Remember, a Rubin produced track. Producer Fraser T. Smith produced the strongly pop-influenced” WK “why-isn’t-it-playing-everywhere rumbler Set Fire to the Rain.” NF
“The “upbeat style” I’ll Be Waiting deals lyrically with the “rekindling of a lost love” while One and Only features a “powerful vocal performance.” WK The second-to-last track, Lovesong, is a cover of the Cure song which they took to #2 on the U.S. pop charts in 1989.
“The centerpiece of the album [is] the mega-ballad showstopper Take It All. Co-written by her ‘Chasing Pavements’ partner Francis White, the song begins with Adele proclaiming ‘Didn’t I give it all?’ Delivered starkly at first with Adele set against simple piano accompaniment and later backed by a gospel choir, it’s an instant-classic sort of song in the tradition of ‘The Rose,’ ‘And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,’ and ‘All by Myself’ that could stand over the years as a career landmark for the singer and a cathartic moment for fans who identify with their idol’s Pyrrhic lovelorn persona.” MC
“Ultimately, Adele does give us her all on 21, and for now that is enough.” MC “Pop music should take more cues from Adele and this album, and less cues from other soul-wannabes/more-dancehall-hits like Duffy or Amy Winehouse. Adele should be the future of the radio, and in the near future she will be.” NF