Album Review: Adele – 25 (Or: Ranking The Album’s Singles Appeal)

Well, then.

Adele sold 3,380,000 copies of 25 last week alone. That is absurd. For some perspective, you could combine the first weeks sales of Drake, The Weeknd, One Direction, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift’s latest albums and it still wouldn’t top 251989 put up a superhuman 1,287,000, and Adele still outsold it more than 2:1. It sold more copies than Iowa has people. It did numbers that weren’t just good for 2015, but outpaced the music industry’s late 90’s/early 00’s heyday. Look on her works, ye Joey Fatone, and despair.

But how’s it look long term?

While 21 did well from the gate, it’s greatest sales strength was resilience; whenever it lost a spot or two to whatever was hot on the charts, it’d bounce right back week after week, month after month. This longevity stemmed from, yes, Adele’s appeal to virtually every major demographic, but also from the long shelf life of her singles. That 25 sold so much in a week is stupid impressive, but without singles to give it legs, the whole thing could still feel like a disappointment. So, instead of asking “Is the fastest selling album of all time any good?”, I thought it’d be more fun to ask “Does the fastest selling album of all time have hits?” (The brief on 25 overall: It’s an Adele album. It’s greatly sung, and aggressively tasteful without being as classicist as 21, but still veers too close to competent tedium for its own good. The nostalgia angle lets her write slow, regretful songs without too blatantly recycling her past work, but it both hits and misses. It’s okay, if a little flat).

So, from most likely to least likely, let’s size up some potential.

1. “Hello”
It’s been number 1 for four weeks already. Next.
Pop Song Superlative: Most Likely to inevitably feature Drake.

2. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”
This Max Martin/Shellback co-write somehow sounds more like OneRepublic than the song Adele did with Ryan Tedder. Including layered vocals, handclaps on the chorus, and repetitive lyrics, it is 25‘s stylistic outlier and weakest song. It’ll be at number one by March.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to be that song you kinda hate at first, kind of like for a bit, and then really hate.

3. “When We Were Young”
“WWWY” is the only song aside from “Hello” that got prerelease attention, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes up in rotation sooner or later. I’d call it a little slow for radio, but it has a nice build and presentation, plus “You like a movie/You sound like a song/My God, this reminds me/Of when we were young” is super quote-friendly. If nothing else, I could see this as a single because it best shows the nostalgia on 25 (side note, I wonder if The Killers are getting any name-sounds-the-same exposure).
Pop Song Superlative: Most Likely to get quoted in yearbooks/social media posts.

4. “All I Ask”
The “Adele makes you sad” narrative’s never resonated with me. I get that it’s a thing, but has always struck me as reducing her entire career to “Someone Like You”. But, people love Sad Adele, and “All I Ask” is her best representation on 25. It’s a somewhat fleet piano ballad that shows Adele pleading at the end of a relationship for one last night, one last memory; “Hold me like I’m more than just a friend” while worrying “What if I never love again?” It’s hokey on paper, but so was “Someone Like You” and co-writer Bruno Mars’ own “When I Was Your Man”, and it didn’t hurt those number one hits, did it? Beside, check that key change.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to fuck people up during karaoke.  

5. “Water Under the Bridge”
Most of this one’s radio appeal is wrapped up in that pulsing synth and looping guitar lick. 25 has a handful of these big, midtempo stompers, but I give “Water Under the Bridge” more single potential for being streamlined and image friendly (Adele and her woes) than most of the album’s back half. Even if this technically Sad Adele, the repeated lyrics of “If you’re gonna let me down, let me down gently” and “Say it ain’t so (ooh-whoa-oh-whoa)” make a compelling lookalike.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to be done by acapellan scourge of humanity Pentatonix.

6. “Sweetest Devotion”
Ending the album on this polished power ballad is a “sun breaking through clouds” moment, ala Kanye ending Yeezus with “Bound 2”, making it perfect material for a last single. It sounds like resolving the angst of 21 and 25, which would play well on the radio. Okay, and I’m secretly hoping for a “Bound 2” level disaster of a video.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to get used in feel-good show promos.

7. “I Miss You”
“I Miss You” tempers the ache of Adele’s best work with a sensual edge and some massive, loping drums. The chorus is kinda catchy, and reminds me of The Weeknd’s “The Hills” at half tempo, and the production from Paul Epworth has enough reverby flourishes for art pop cred. Were Adele not Adele, this would be her alternative radio single. The only downside: it is (practically) six minutes long, so even placing at seventh is optimistic.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to get a Jamie xx remix.

8. “Remedy”
I want to put this one a notch or two lower for being one of the more tepid songs here, but the main piano hook is just memorable enough and Adele is just soothing enough on this ballad about her son that it wouldn’t entirely surprise me to see this get released.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to spend like, nine weeks in the middle of the Hot 100.

9. “River Lea”
Like “Water Under the Bridge”, but not as immediate. Makes me wish Danger Mouse would work with Florence and the Machine, though.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to live as the album’s “deep cut.”

10. “Love in the Dark”
The worst thing you can say about this piano and strings number is that it’s a very nice Sam Smith tune.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to get covered by Sam Smith.

11. “Million Years Ago”
Fingerpicked guitar songs about passing the park near where you grew up and lamenting “Oh God, I’m so old” are meant for the artist, not the for the radio.
Pop Song Superlative: Most likely to be covered by people who do covers in coffeeshops.

About bgibs122

I enjoy music and music culture; I hope you do, too.
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