Hel–oh sorry, hello to you, too, Adele.
She’s back, y’all. Rumor’s had it for a while that Adele was eyeing a November release date for the follow-up to her global smash 21, but we finally have the details on (wait for it) 25. She’s forgoing the usual album preroll for a lightning fast campaign: the album’s out November 20th, and just about everything about it only came out this week, including the lead single. I’m not sure how the blitz will pan out for her in the long run, but at least in the short-term, its accomplished the goal of making Adele the biggest news in a week that’s seen Drake release a video tailor-made for memes, and the latest waft of cologne in Justin Bieber’s tepidly tasteful comeback.
I’ll admit, it’s surprising to see Adele everywhere with barely any notice, but you have to remember that 21 was an album that was fucking everywhere. It spawned three number one hits, spent 24 weeks on top of the charts, won every award possible, and sold ten million copies in a little under two years. Taylor Swift’s 1989 might keep that pace, but Adele did it before Billboard updated their rules to include streams; that ten million was done in pure albums sold. One well-received Bond theme and three years of nothing later, here we are with “Hello” and 25, and I feel a little conflicted.
Let’s get this out of the way: “Hello” is a perfectly great Adele song. It’s stately, it’s sweeping, it sounds like a million bucks. It sufficiently tugs at the heartstrings, particularly at the final chorus around three and a half minutes in. Adele gave a sky-high vocal performance on the record, and I’m sure she will be just as great on that soaring chorus when she plays late shows and award ceremonies live with a piano to her right, and a choir behind her. The song eases back somewhat on Adele’s overt classicist production by using softer drum sounds and keeping the strings tucked in the farthest reaches of the background, and I swear there’s some textured synth sounds in the chorus somewhere. In short, “Hello” is everything you like about Adele polished toward perfection.
But, right now, I can’t say I’ve fallen for “Hello.” I can recognize that it’s a brilliant move technically, artistically, and (probab–oh, let’s not kid ourselves) commercially, but my heart’s not in it yet. A lot of it has to do with the nature of Adele’s music; historically, her songs click with prolonged exposure over months instead of within the first week or two of listening. Her brand of universal-but-specific songwriting, and detailed if unflashy arrangements sound best after you’ve gotten familiar with them, otherwise she sounds great, but boring (it’s worth noting that “Rolling in the Deep” went to number 1 in May 2011, some six months after its November 2010 debut). Come back to me later, and I’m sure I’ll be wrapped up in it, but right now I’m still looking from the outside in. Let’s see some lyrics.
“Hello, it’s me, I was wondering/If after all these years you’d like to meet to go over everything” I don’t know if this is a continuation from 21, but I don’t know that it isn’t, either. Solid introduction to bring back the Queen of Aching.
“Hello, can you hear me?/I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be” This might be the most somber song to ever use “California dreaming”.
“Hello from the otherside/I must’ve called a thousand times/To tell you I’m sorry, for everything that I’ve done/But when I call you never seem to be home” 25 is Adele’s designated “make up album”, but no one said making up was easy.
“Hello from the outside/At least I can say that I’ve tried/To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart/But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore” That’s a hell of a one-two from “You never seem to be home” to “It clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore”. It’s a tragic progression from 21: you can miss someone on your own, but closure is a team effort.
I certainly respect and even like “Hello”, even if I feel like I’m missing something from it right now. It updates Adele’s sound and perspective just enough to feel different from 21, and it works well as a reintroduction, but it’s hardly a departure. If you’re on the Adele hype train already, this is your everything; if not, “Hello” falls into the same category of being overpowering but kind of dull, a criticism of her work that probably isn’t going away soon. On a related note, I don’t know if this sort of flash delirium album rollout will work for her. Adele’s music is a lot of things, but I wouldn’t say “urgent” is among them, and you kind of need that for these proto-surprise releases. Then again, for an artist who commands attention like she does, I’m not sure it matters. That’s why I’m okay giving “Hello” time to sink in: I know it’s not going away soon.