Adele's 2009 debut album, 19, was a Grammy-winning smash hit that revealed the British singer/songwriter's knack for bittersweet soul and folk-infused love songs that brought to mind an infectious mix of Dusty Springfield and Terry Callier. The album earned her a ton of fans, and interest was high for the inevitable follow-up. In many ways, her sophomore album, the similarly age-appropriate-titled 21, is a continuation of the sounds and themes Adele was working with on 19. She is still the bluesy pop diva with a singer/songwriter's soul and seemingly bottomless capacity for heartbreak. The best thing the album does is to showcase Adele's titanic vocal ability, which -- more than a few times on 21 -- is simply spine-tingling. Last time around we got the gauzy, Callier-esque folk-soul ballad "Daydreamer" to slowly draw us into the album; here, Adele immediately injects us with the propulsive gospel fever-blues anthem "Rolling in the Deep." While the track certainly owes a heavy debt to the punk-blues of Beth Ditto and the Gossip, it is also ridiculously sexy and one of the best singles of any decade. Elsewhere, we get tracks like the blues-inflected Ryan Tedder co-write "Rumour Has It" and the old-school-style soul cut "He Won't Go," which are terrifically catchy, booty-shaking numbers and exactly the kind of songs you want and expect from Adele. Similarly enthralling is the centerpiece of the album, the mega-ballad showstopper "Take It All." Co-written by her "Chasing Pavements" partner Francis White, the song begins with Adele proclaiming "Didn't I give it all?" Delivered starkly at first with Adele set against simple piano accompaniment and later backed by a gospel choir, it's an instant-classic sort of song in the tradition of "The Rose," "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going," and "All by Myself" that could stand over the years as a career landmark for the singer and a cathartic moment for fans who identify with their idol's Pyrrhic lovelorn persona. Ultimately, Adele does give us her all on 21, and for now that is enough. [Three live acoustic bonus tracks were also included.] ~ Matt Collar, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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