Liner Notes: The Melancholy & Infinite Sadness Of Adele's Quarter Life Crisis

Ah, I remember when I was 25. *rocks back in rocking chair, sips some Roscato*

Okay, it was only four years ago, but with vividness I know I was grumpy, despondent, and exasperated, every adjective under the word: confused. In truth, these feelings haven't exactly subsided as the kick and scream into 30 (!) goes underway, so looking back at how dramatic I was at the quarter point of my life is a little laughable, silly even. Still, what comes from all that internal fussing and fighting during your mid-'20s is the awareness of becoming older, and it's a feeling that never truly leaves you as it mutates into different frequencies as the calendar dates rip off one by one.

Growth is a loooonnng process, arduous in how you begin to see yourself, coming to terms with who you are and what you're really about. Though time and situations don't often allot the advantage to be reflective of this every waking hour, there are moments, flickers of realization that inform you that something is 'different', something has 'changed'. Adele is aware of this change of self, but she isn't exactly tossing up confetti about it as on 25 she's fearing and loathing almost every chapter she's closing as she hits adulthood at a breakneck pace.

For those who figured that Adele was through 'rolling in the deep' after spilling all of her heartbreak and angst on the massive 21, 25 has one re-thinking that thought.

The crux of 25 isn't focused on the 'what next' or even the urgency of the present, but lingers in the doorways of 'what happened'. Clinging to her youth Adele is, resisting the tick of the clock, desperate to not let her past become misty-water colored memories as she stands, pissed, and largely somber, in the in-between point. Adele is clenching harder than most as new life responsibilities such as motherhood and the gravitas and expectation of being one of the biggest pop stars of this decade have her looking back in anger, fear, and longing, out-right nostalgic for those days when life was just a bit simpler to configure, where she wasn't examining and critiquing herself with such bittersweet analysis. Though she says she's moved on, claiming to i-D magazine in her first interview in four years, that this album was geared to "clear out her past", Adele still has a lot to rectify with.

The confessional beauty of this album is Adele to a tee. She's built a career on being a dissector of the heart, exposing her own heartbreaks in order to find semblance and kinship with her audience who too have tears in their eyes, and snapshots of their own lives to rifle through. It's a little funny, ironic even that Adele's first career ambition was to be a heart surgeon, this assertion sparked after the death of her grandfather, her desiring from then on there to be a fixer of hearts as hers was breaking.

In a sense, Adele has become a surgeon, but of a different sort. Her words have become the scalpel, piercing at every vein, opening all kinds of exposed emotion in hopes to analyze it and 'fix' whatever is ailing it. It's why we, the listeners, come back to Adele. Anybody can sing about love and maturation, but it takes a special type of observer to be as tactful and touching when they diagnose the matters that plague and invigorate the heart. She knows how to translate her personal experience into a universal thought, and it's why people breathlessly have attached themselves to Adele, and have labeled her as a new visage for "true artistry".

For too long I've heard conversations and critiques about the 'state' of today's music and the lack of vocalists who can "carry a tune" or "evoke emotions". Assertions that the top 40 is filled with vapid pieces of bubblegum and mindless rap stars who really have nothing better to say unless it deals with sex, money, how great they are ---- rinse and repeat in that order. Well, here is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins. She can sing, and sing very well. She doesn't show her alphabets to the world. She's a double-digit girl whose sole presence alters stagnant expectations on physical beauty. To top, in candid moments she seems like a level-headed and cool person, and I hold a kernel of hope that I get to knock back a drink with her some day whenever I stop the Playskool shit and become a real legitimate journalist (...we all have our growing up to do...).

Adele's wins, outright benefits because her sincerity and melancholic scope is what is often time missing from the pop equation these days. We haven't had a serious youngblood 'chanteuse' in years so the hunger is there for not just the type of vocalist who isn't arrogant to others feelings, but one who can sing their high-end off. It's why 25 works and why people are going zany over it, there is a niche for songs that ruminate at a glacial pace, where an artist uses their voice as the focal point instead of using it as afterthought, where songs posses themes that prick the senses and churn the soul. Adele herself said it in her recent TIME magazine interview, she isn't shy or embarrassed to show herself "falling apart" in her music, it's this camaraderie that has listeners coming back for seconds, for thirds.

Like its overall theme, a nostalgic need also follows 25. It recalls Streisand and Shirley (Bassey, that is), days of big and ostentatious voices and sweeping, ostentatious emotive showstoppers. Me being a 1990s kid to my core, 25 reminds me of days of snatching many remote controls, hairbrushes, and Crayola markers to imitate the vocal deities of the decade --- you know Whitney, Mariah, Celine, Toni, Tamia, all of them, even Brandy and Mary J. too. When Adele released "Hello", the reaction towards it was as if we had never heard ballads before. There was a thirst for that song, and drank every tear we did as Adele recalled her need to reconnect with those who she loves, apologizing for not being able to find the path back to their connected pasts. Even though the song itself is impacting, it was hearing that voice after four years of silence that made it ever the more so.

Still, even though Adele evokes such nostalgic air in craft and memory, its central relatable theme is relentless to a fault.

When Adele sings the opening bars of "River Lea" ("Everybody tells me it's 'bout time that I moved on / And I need to learn to lighten up and learn how to be young"), you sort of want her to take these friends advice, because Adele resisting to fill her shallow, valley heart becomes an art in tedium when we listen to 25. It's somewhat surprising to hear her so crestfallen considering what a spitfire Adele is when you catch her in an interview moment. She can seriously charm the underoos off with her hilarious one-liners and her recounts of awkward stumbles in the limelight of fame, but you really wouldn't know that when you hear her music, especially on 25. Some of her wit crackles on the shady little Max Martin-helmed "Send My Love (To A New Lover)", which is the 'Bye Felicia!' kiss-off of the record, sounding like a recall of those good n' fussy 21 times in its plucky guitar beat and sassy vocality, but its the lone upbeat moment on 25 where Adele grabs hold of her quarter life like a dame with moxie.

Expressively maudlin, 25 is. I had to stub a toe and get in an argument with my mother to truly feel it, because as much as I'm thinking about getting older, I'm not ready to actually think about getting older, especially not the way Adele frames it. Adele's collaboration with indie newbie, Tobias Jesso, Jr.,"When We Were Young" has her feeling the fictional feels, imagining herself middle-aged, at a party, coming in contact with an old beau. Adele, not even 30 yet, but already thinking about being in her 50s? Good grief. The song is too beautiful, too sublime in its vocal delivery for it to be about such droll circumstances that haven't happened yet. And isn't 50 dubbed 'the new 30' these days? Adele might want to rethink all this ho-hum...

So who cares about the topic of the song, you say, it's all about Adele and that VOICE! Yes, yes, Adele is gifted with an instrument that is embodied with emotion, range, and power, but on 25, you only know that much. Blame falls on her producers --- Greg Kurstin, Paul EpworthRyan Tedder, --- all of them, all at one point capable and able to work magic with Adele, but here, they just blunt her edges, get lazy and just let her voice work overtime. All they know is that Adele has a great voice and that's about it. Not that that's bad, just that its predictable and doesn't push anything beyond that. At times, her voice is often too advanced for the bulk of the material. Tedder's "Remedy" is a glaring culprit of that, as it's the type of vocalizing-by-numbers that Adele could do in her sleep.

Not to say there aren't glimmers of moments that spark the senses. The pleasant surprise of Danger Mouse as a co-producer and writer on "River Lea" takes the song down some interesting canals, especially at the chorus point, where Adele's voice creases and folds, channeling the weary white girl blues of Florence + The Machine and Lykke Li. "Water Under The Bridge" is a splashier ballad than "Hello" and "When We Were Young" combined, and it is bound to be single material someday as it gurgles with guitars and thunderclaps of percussion.

The baroque "Million Years Ago" is a wonderful memory piece with a Carly Simon "Boys In The Trees" kind of feel. Though the lyrics teeter towards Adele being placed on suicide watch ("I wish I could live a little more / Look up to the sky not just the floor / I feel like my life is flashing by / And all I can do is watch and cry / I miss the air / I miss my friends/ I miss my mother / I miss it when / Life was a party to be thrown"), there is a chilling beauty about its poignancy.

Even better executed than them all is "I Miss You", a chain gang crawl of a bop, that is haunting and brutal, cavernous and shuddering --- just downright brilliant it is. The Adele on this scoffs at the matronly marm that moans on a bulk of these tracks, oozing out a craving sensuality that really sparks a fire ("Treat me soft, but touch me cruel / I wanna teach you things you never knew"). Just the prismatic way its derived, the differing rivulets of rhythms that trickle down into a pool of inky nocturnal longing, all of it poised as a reminder to the textures and layers her voice has, and what type of raw edge she can concoct when the music mates --- not divorces --- with this aesthetic.

Growth periods often come marked with a sticker that says: Results may vary. Adele's growth period is her own to possess, hers alone to share. We are just mere passersby to the growing pains and Adele's gained perspective of them and aligned right she is about how we approach and mature in love and life, especially in the pivotal throws of our mid-twenties.Though 25 checks off every key grievance I've had in concerns with maturation, as well as the lack of naturalism in pop music these days, something in the structure and style of this album just fell flat for me.

25 is Adele at her most contemporary pop and it unfortunately steers her into the safe zone. Even though Adele has culled together and impressive group of producers and had a hand in co-writing all eleven tracks, no new invention is going on in this record. The songs are bursting at the seams with emotion, but there's nothing musically engaging that thrusts you into the full experience of her pain.
25 is just too overwrought for its own good, a plate full of polished, plastic fruit that looks good and edible, but bite into it and your senses are disillusioned. Such tedium has one wondering what the album she had initially shelved --- the one filled with all those 'un-listenable songs about motherhood' ---- sounded like. Was it worse than this? Or was the material on the chipper side --- and well, we can't have Adele be chipper now can we? Was the writer's block she had completing the record hindered her perception to where instead of embracing her happiness, she reverted backward? The questions, they hang.

It's not that I was looking to find 19 or 21 in 25, it's just that a lot of what made those albums listenable and captivating pop jewels fails to come to the surface here. As much as Adele is standing on the confessional pulpit, so little of Adele feels a part of this record.

What attracted me to Adele wasn't just because her voice could slay every love line, angle and rhyme --- only a facet of the attraction it is --- because what drew me in was that she used her instrument to extract unspeakable feelings and emotions and dormant memories. Listening closer, Adele is just 'singing' on this particular record. All singing with little substance behind her, and at times, I hate to say she's over-singing. Fan favorite, the piano ballad "All I Ask" is such an example of this, as it has the surface appeal of lung power perfection, but Bruno Mars, who's usually quite meticulous whenever he's doing his wooing, doesn't touch Adele with the same grace as his own heartfelt balladry. The loose vocal arrangements just don't reign her in right, and in honesty, she's screaming in your face, all the while you're sitting right next to her. It bears repeating, but just because you're 'loud' doesn't make you 'raw' or 'expressive' --- try the opposite.

Maybe I'm just not emotional enough. Maybe I'm too nit-picky. Maybe I'm grouchy that Adele is being compared to Whitney Houston when my ears know better. Maybe I'm just a glass-half-full kinda gal no matter how despondent and self-depreciating I get about my life and my past. Maybe I just want Adele to do a bad ass blues-rock album that will put her voice to some good use instead of hearing it wasted on over-produced, tedious ballads that do little to expand her sound. I don't know. This album is odd in that it's easy to be disappointed by it, but a little paradoxical to even mention the word "disappointment" considering the album's success and Adele being a likable and essential pop star.

As I run out of maybe's and try to spare my brain from all the over-thought, all I know is that Adele has turned the panicky, wackiness of the quarter-life crisis into a funeral march towards adulthood, and man, what a masterful killjoy it is.

*drinks the last gulp of Roscato, gets out of rocking chair with glittery walking cane in hand*

+ Purchase 25 via iTunes
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