Hello, and welcome to our first Radio Rant of 2012, yay! Who’s up?
By the way, sorry about the video quality this week, but there’s no official video yet, so I had to use something less stellar than our usual. Anyway, why not start 2012 with the latest from the biggest pop star of 2011? I still kind of can’t believe the grip Adele had on the mainstream last year, and basically doing it with two songs. “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” were both big hits with a long and high profile gestation time. I’ve heard “Set Fire to the Rain” and other possible single “Rumour Has It” a few times on the radio, but not enough to really think on one of them.
Like the other songs on 21, “Set Fire to the Rain” uses all acoustic instrumentation in a band set up. In this case, the song’s built around piano, drums, and bass with a nice, big string section at the chorus. Actually, that’s not entirely true; the strings are almost always there, but work really well in the background during the verses. The piano in the verses is surprisingly nimble, and gives the song a good sense of drama. And, as always, the production is good and solid.
And, in true Adele fashion, she really lets her voice take off at the chorus. And, unlike her previous hits, the music rushes up to match her. Across the song, she sounds great like she always does (especially at the end), but I just don’t buy this chorus. It’s kinda catchy and memorable, but the transition is kind of clumsy, and when the music rises up with her, Adele doesn’t sound quite as powerful. It’s all kind of overwrought.
Now, I absolutely have to look at the lyrics to this song, because I have no idea what happens in life (besides drug use) that leads you to “I set fire to the rain”. Overall, the lyrics seems to be about the life and death of a relationship. It opens with lines like “You kissed my lips and you saved me”, then gets to “There’s a side of you/That I never knew, never knew/All things you’d say/They were never true, never true”. The only really bizarre line is somewhere around here:
“My hands, they’re strong/But my knees were far too weak/To stand in your arms/Without falling to your feet”. Mostly it’s the “stand in your arms” part that throws me off. I get what she’s saying (even if I had to act it out in my head), but there’s just something off about the line. But yeah, the gist of the song is that this guy was a jerk to Adele, and then in the chorus…
“I set fire to the rain/Watched it pour as I touched your face/Well, it burned while I cry/’Cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name”. I’m guessing that setting fire to the rain is her way of getting back at him? Breaking up with him, telling him off? The chorus captures the duality of the end of a relationship; you’re really attached to this person, but you have to do er, something to them. I just wish she used a metaphor that didn’t make me think of acid rain.
The bridge is sort of unfortunate in that the lyrics are really sharp, but Adele goes for an Eddie Vedder impersonation, and mushes them together, meaning that you miss, “That heart you caught must be waiting for you/Even now when we’re over/I can’t help myself from looking for you”.
If this has seemed like a pretty sterile entry so far, I’m sorry, but this song doesn’t do much for me either way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as frivolous as “Good Feeling” or “Stereo Hearts” or anything, but it still feels pretty pedestrian. When I reviewed 21, I mentioned that the album revolved around two phenomenal songs, and supported by songs somewhere in the realm of “good”, “Set Fire” being somewhere on the low side. I grooved out to “Rolling in the Deep”, and “Someone Like You” stops me in my tracks every listen, but I flatlined with “Set Fire to the Rain”. Maybe it’s Adele burnout, or maybe it’s that I’ve seen her cover “I was in a break-up and it sucked” territory before better than she does here, but “Set Fire” just sounds like a misfire.