TGIF: We just spent 49 minutes with Adeles new album
In just 49 minutes, 25 makes 1989 sound like 2112.

A lot of people think of the Friday after Thanksgiving as a freebie, but news never sleeps. Neither does music, especially Adele's new record, which, as any child will tell you, has just broken the all-time world record for most or fastest or hottest non-streamble albums sold in a particular period of time of all time.

Critics everywhere are lining up to praise the album (for reals) and to opine about the relative savvy and/or treason of its release strategy, its aesthetic texture, its MEANING.

It's clearly one of those records. And so, to my chagrin, I knew I would eventually have to actually listen to it. Given the extent to which the album's conspicuous consumability is at the heart of its rampant interest, what better time to hear it than on so-called Black Friday?

And who better to share the experience with than literally anyone I could find?

And so, I rounded up those few co-workers of mine who hadn't made better post-holiday plans to help me make sense of the 49-minute odyssey-in-the-shape-of-an-opus that is Adele's 25—a record that was clearly made with none of us even slightly in mind (nor should it have been!), but which we, as members of the larger subgroup known as everyone, must nonetheless have a response to.

Don't let those protesters fool you, friends: Capitalism is doing just fine.

A song-by-song account follows:

1. HELLO (4:56)

DAVE SEGAL:
It’s ballsy to open an album with a somber ballad and to reference Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” and the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming,” even if not attaining the heights of those pop monuments. Adele does the “quiet verses and explosively cathartic chorus” formula with poise and just enough tasteful bombast to not cause tension in dentist waiting rooms. (I’m not going to deal much with the lyrics, because Sean Nelson and Rich Smith are top-tier interpreters who will get the job done with much more authority.)

SEAN NELSON:
YES, I can hear you.

I am as lachrymose as anyone, but I simply can’t relate to the wailing wall school of misery.

“It’s so typical of me to talk about myself. I’m sorry” No need to apologize, A-train. But when are you going to start actually talking about yourself?

This strikes me as a pre-existing hit into which the producers have poured Adele’s legitimately strong, if monochromatic voice. A prefab house in search of a tenant. Not bad as far as that form goes, but it doesn't go far with me. I would NEVER choose to put this song on.

RICH SMITH:
She begins where all conversations, all loves begin. With a hello.

David Attenborough narrating the beginning of the Adele video. Two of the best British voices this world has ever known, finally in one place.

KATHLEEN RICHARDS:
She has a powerful voice. It seems “soulful.” I can imagine this song in a commercial, one of those with a lot of people standing on a slick paved road in a city, all singing in unison as they march toward some brighter, uplifting future, holding a really good product.

2. SEND MY LOVE (TO YOUR NEW LOVER) (3:43)

DS:
Sounds like Adele and cowriters Max Martin and Shellback’s version of D’Angelo’s sleek, slinky seduction scenario, but the chorus erupts into surprising effusiveness. The kiss-off line “Send my love to your new lover/Treat her better” smacks of Alanis Morissette—and I want to smack myself for making that comparison.

KR:
This song is a little more upbeat, almost kinda dancy. I can see it really improving someone’s mood in a mall (though not mine)…

SN:
I like that “lo-HII-verrrr” bit on the chorus, and the percussive acoustic guitar strings on the verses.

When a 25-year-old complains about “not being kids no more” it’s hard not to tune out.

RS:
I’m making some kind of Paul Simon / Graceland connection to this that I cannot back up with any kind of evidence.

This song is advice to the Adele from the song before and thus undermines the emotions leaking out of my face earlier. If she knows she just has to let go, then why make such a big fuss of never being able to let go in the song before? I feel betrayed.

This is the one that’s going to be remixed to all hell by Diplo.

ANGELA GARBES:
This song makes me want to hear her sing that Lorde song.

KR:
Okay, I’m ready for this song to end now.

3. I MISS YOU (5:49)

DS:
The opening Talk Talk ca. Spirit of Eden-like organ meditativeness gets jostled by huge, clunky drums, courtesy of producer Paul Epworth (Nine Inch Nails, the Streets, New Order, U2, Interpol, etc. etc.). This must be Adele’s idea of a sexual frenzy, her urge overkill, if you will. But she never loses her composure, never flings her panties across the room. The song implies that the libido’s strong, but the passion’s still reined in. Adele’s always in control, but not in the Janet Jackson sense.

SN:
Drum soundcheck throughout the intro and first verse. A weird beat for a mass audience number (the only kind of song on this record), but not actually weird. More like an obstinate drummer’s first draft idea that somehow sticks around? I’ve already spent more time writing about it than you or anyone else will spend thinking about it.

Very ‘80s, undoubtedly. Longest song on the record, inDEED.

I understand how and why people want to take Adele’s side against Damon Albarn’s allegation that her new batch of music was “middle-of-the-road” (since comments like that from a spurned potential collaborator on one of the few albums that promise to earn serious $$$ for co-writers are easily interpreted as condescending, cryptosexist sour grapes), BUT seriously… Can you think of a more MOR (not to be confused with the excellent Blur song of the same name) record that people you respect are eager to defend? Josh Groban? Il Divo?

Seriously: 25 makes 1989 sound like 2112.

I would encourage writers to stop pretending they empathize so hard with the banlieue and acknowledge that the middle-of-the-roadness of Adele’s music is a market-based calculation that runs through every song like an algorithm. You're welcome to defend that if you like—three million albums in one week can’t be wrong, etc.—but please stop letting the perfectly respectable impulse not to talk down to the literal and figurative teenagers who like this material because it meets them at their exact emotional water line lead you to pretend that it runs any deeper than that. That’s condescension.

RS:
The drum part is just a long-form slow-mo version of the Phil Collins drum fill from “In the air tonight.”
“I miss you when the lights go out,” she sings. This must be the woman who makes Drake’s hotline bling.

This IS the longest song on the record, isn’t it?

KR:
I’m getting a Radiohead vibe. It’s a little eerie. The drums are very prominent in the mix (at least through computer monitor speakers). Very draggy beat. Her voice is giving me weird goose-bumpy feelings.

4. WHEN WE WERE YOUNG (4:51)

KR:
This song is pretty boring. I have nothing to say about it.

SN:

I have a couple of things to say about it.

“It was just like a movie/ It was just like a song/ When we were young.”

This is the very definition of a generic observation. Lazy writing. Not any movie in particular? Not a particular song? The same can be said of “When We Were Young.” Like a song. But not really…

25 is really reminding me of the things Sasha Frere-Jones wrote about Coldplay for the New Yorker:

“the lyrics never rise above the level of foggy, hopeful clichés that have been placed in an order.”

and

“a need to Signify Something began to overwhelm the charm”

and

“[the lyrics] now sound like a thousand coffee-mug mottoes strung together, inspirational at first blush but completely devoid of substance.”

Only you can swap “pre-printed blank journal cover” for “coffee mug.” And, okay, not completely devoid of substance, since the substance here is Adele's earnestly performed conviction—the depth, not the breadth of her feeling. But let’s be real for one second: I know it’s picayune to expect song lyrics to be thoughtful in the same way we would like written or spoken words to be—their first job is to do their job rhythmically, then to hang a skin on the melodic skeleton, and anything more than that is a bonus that people began to think of as a birthright after Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan started really flexing.

(Side note: I believe this is true, even though, as a listener and a singer, I don’t actually feel it; lyrics can be bad and still be great, but when they’re just not-good, as Adele’s are, they are misery).

The words to "When We Were Young" are insultingly universal, an offense against the power of the feelings she is supposedly reaching so deep to express. It costs her nothing but the fee for the studio and production team.

Hence, there is not one moment on 25 that is remotely as soaring as "Rolling in the Deep," or remotely as clever as "Rumor Has It," or any of the lively, living tunes on 21. There, I said it.

p.s.
25 is STILL young. GOD!

RS:
So... like, last spring?

DS:
“You look like a movie/You sound like a song” is perhaps the most vague, laziest line ever written by a multi-platinum recording artist—which is saying a lot. Furthermore, it’s not enough that this song is expensive-sounding schmaltz; no, it has to be very generic schmaltz, as well. Be glad, Spotify users!

5. REMEDY (4:05)

AG:
As a mother’s anthem/song, Beyonce’s “Blue” is much more affecting.

Adele:
Come whatever I'll be the shelter that won't let the rain come through
Your love, it is my truth
And I will always love you

Bey:
My heart beats so damn quick when you say my name
When I'm holding you tight, I'm so alive

See?

DS:
Fuck me running, another piano-led ballad. I don’t care if the lyrics are Billy Shakespeare caliber—when the music’s as dull and stodgy as this, it shuts down your pleasure centers with a cruel finality. I dunno—maybe if I were a cashier for a Wal-Mart in suburban Iowa, this would sound like salvation. But I’m a motherfucking urbanite whose shelves groan with Funkadelic and Conrad Schnitzler LPs. I don’t have time or patience for this “tears in my Chablis” sentimentality.

SN:
You can tell this song is a hit from the opening two seconds of Bruce Hornsbyesque piano

More perfectly generic lyrics:
“River wide/deep”
“Shelter/rain”
“Your love it is my truth and I will always love you”

The chorus is pure gold, obviously, because that’s the only reason the song exists. A good example of how bad (as opposed to not-good) lyrics don’t actually matter that much:
"When the world seems so cruel
And your heart makes you feel like a fool
I promise you will see
That I will be your remedy"

Not so bad as delivery devices for a stirring melody.

RS:
[30 seconds into the song] This one’s going to be about addiction.

[Two mins into the song] This song is about being addicted to love.

You can’t cut with pain. Pain is a biological response to cutting. If you could cut with pain, I would cut myself with pain right now.

This is one of those pop songs made up from lines of other pop songs. It’s a pop song cento.

KR:
Rich called this: “This is a song about addiction.”

It’s probably the piano intro. This lady has a strong voice but I wish she would do something with it other than this melismatic fluttering. Ugh.

Point of reference:

6. WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE (4:01)

DS:
Compared to everything else before it, this is a Dionysian club banger. But it’s still square as fuck, a feel-good, faux-party cut for the blandest people in the land.

SN:
“Why have we been through what we have been through?”
ummm, my sentiments exactly

“Have I ever asked for much/ The only thing that I want is your love” is the kind of lazy-ass almost rhyme that a) kills a pop song for me, and b) doesn’t matter in the LEAST when it’s in the fourth or fifth single on a megahit LP.

But I don’t understand why would anyone want to reward the reliance on hyper cliché that allows a 21st century recording star to sing the lines “water under the bridge” and “say it ain’t so” with NO sense of remove, commentary, irony, or anything. She sings them like she owns them. A for audacity, I guess. F for everything else.

RS:
‘80s cruzin’ jamz in the Pinto.

I like the way she says bridge in this song. “Breeeedge.” Like a breeeeeedge over troubled water.

Check in on the album’s narrative: So they might be breaking up again?

KR:
This is her tUnE-yArDs beat.

It’s turning into a club hit.

Her singing is slightly less annoying on this one.

Point of reference:

7. RIVER LEA (3:46)

DS:
Here’s a pleasant, swaying, uplifting soul brooder that proves Danger Mouse—the guy who debuted on the adventurous UK hiphop label Lex and who brilliantly fused the Beatles and Jay Z on The Grey Album—has become as tame and convention-bound as any other big-name, major-label producer. It’s baffling that the man known to his accountant as Brian Burton would want huge paychecks instead of underground-hiphop cred, but there you go. Mysteries never cease.

SN:
The first moment of musical interest on the album. A convincingly non-synthetic organ, a rattling tambourine in the background. The illusion that there is a background. Cool, subtle chord modulation just before the chorus. The chorus itself, the repetition of “River Lea,” sounding like it could be “reveille” or “reverie” or “memory,” or even “remedy.” It’s not experimental or anything, but on a record full of broad, gray strokes, these are welcome filigrees.

Side note: “the arms of your touch” [???]

That fake gospel vibe is really effective when fronted by a voice like this. And the words are reaching for something, too—a conflation of place, person, and persona that’s still in keeping with the overall project of self-involvement/investment. I wish the whole record were more like this, or at the very least, that her future might hold more work in this vein.

RS:
YES ADELE. YOU DO HAVE TO MOVE ON. YOU HAVE BEEN THE ONE TELLING YOURSELF TO DO THAT. SO DO IT. Who am I kidding. Baby, come back to me, I miss you.

This song is about Adele’s hometown river. I can get behind that. My hometown river was a drainage ditch filled with glass and old crabapples.

8. LOVE IN THE DARK (4:46)

KR:
There are strings in this one.

SN:
“I’m being cruel to be kind.” Oh, you don’t SAY.

“between us/defeated”—would “defeat us” have KILLED her?

A dumptruckload of Nutra-Sweet on top of an orchy arrangement that makes “The Long and Winding Road” (a.k.a. the only actually bad Beatles song) sound like Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

RS:
Is this a song about forbidden love? Or just having sex with the lights off? Or sex with forbidden lights?

DS:
A sparse orchestral ballad that has given me diabetes, this is not quite as wretchedly maudlin as Stevie and Macca’s “Ebony and Ivory,” but it’s close. XL Recordings will be hearing from my lawyers.

9. MILLION YEARS AGO (3:47)

SN:
YOU’RE STILL YOUNG, ADELE! GODDAMN IT!

RS:
I’m lying in a floral bed in a teakwood hotel room perfumed with salt and sandalwood. Memories of you wash over me with such force they ripple my silk robe.

I don’t mean to be pedantic, but you can’t look up to the floor, Adele.

KR:
This is her “intimate” song. The problem is: the lyrics are so trite, it’s impossible to feel a real connection.

DS:
Imagine an “I Will Survive” for introverts. Now I’m on suicide watch. FFS, I’m more than twice the age of Adele, but she sounds like she could be my mother on this weepy, turgid tune.

Points of Reference:


+

(or, perhaps)

10. ALL I ASK (4:32)

Some dispute in the office over whether this one is more this:

or this:

SN:
A piano player sits high atop Windham Hill…

DS:
So. Melodically. Stultifying. Are relationships and love worth all this suffering? “All I Ask” is doing a helluva job of thwarting my will to live. “It matters how this ends/Cause what if I never love again?” Well, you could probably salve your wounds with your millions of pounds and have loads of acrobatic, meaningless sex with an endless variety of strangers. Just a suggestion.

KR:
All these melodies sound so familiar. It’s like a jukebox of every overwrought love song you’ve ever heard.

11. SWEETEST DEVOTION (4:12)

DS:
The album’s peak, this could be Adele’s “Bittersweet Symphony”… if she had a single ounce of rock-and-roll juice in her. But alas, no. “Sweetest Devotion” does have that gently tumbling momentum and those wistful “woo woo”s and a swelling, spiritualized chorus of the sort that sends you out of the theater overwhelmed with inspiration… to go shopping. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to Dusty in Memphis… or, hell, maybe Duffy’s Rockferry.

KR:
Last song! Dave says: “It’s a show-stopper!” I’m literally scratching my head trying to think of something to say. At least she’s singing this like a semi-normal human. Sean and Angela are unconsciously singing along for a sec. It’s not horrible. The bass line is okay.

Adele clearly has a powerful voice, but if you’re not into the melismatic style of singing, it’s hard to listen to for very long. All the songs seem manufactured. They don’t feel genuine or real. The melodies are rehashed. The lyrics are cliché. The emotions are overwrought. I had a hard time connecting to these songs.

RS:
Gotta reaffirm love after all of this questioning, this searching, this wondering.

This song is secretly sad because there is no object assigned to the “sweetest devotion.” What is devoted to Adele? There is no you. She’s just talking about the idea of the sweetest devotion. The idea.

SN:
Maybe it’s survivor’s guilt or buyer’s remorse or mission creep but I’m pretty into this one, after the onslaught of shopping mall PA mediocrity that has preceded it. It has a nice swing, a human scale, and "devotion/explosion" is (finally) a rhyme that doesn't hurt to remember. BUT once you hear the similarity of the verse melody to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (a.k.a. the “sail away, sail away, sail away” song from the Crystal Light commercial), I defy you to think of anything else.

EPILOGUE:

[A few minutes later:]

KR:
I don’t know why I have Amy Grant’s “Baby, Baby” stuck in my head now.