Saturday, July 30, 2011

Someone Like Adele

[Originally posted on May 26, 2011. Updated to include new tour dates and venue information.]

The Blogger nearly walked out on a date a few months back. When he professed his love for the music of Adele, whose gloriously bluesy soul has not left his iPod since the start of 2011, his dining companion declared, “Yeah, I can see why you like her. But I think she’s too easy to like, you know?” No, I don’t know. Why should good music be difficult to be appreciated? Sometimes, all you need is a piano and a voice.

British singer Adele finally achieved global domination in 2011. She scored the dual honour of having the Number One album and single in the UK at the exact same time for several weeks earlier this year, a feat achieved by few artists. Her popularity was such that she had two singles in the Top Five at the same time that she achieved two Top Five albums simultaneously, a feat that only she and the Beatles have accomplished. Adele’s current disc 21 entered the American album charts at the summit and her single “Rolling in the Deep” is the reigning Number One hit. See? It’s not too easy to like, is it now?

Adele herself may have underestimated her own appeal in North America. When tickets went on sale for her current tour, there was a small hysterical dervish evidenced by the hordes of Facebook account holders who despaired at not being able to get tickets. Adele is playing the Blogger’s hometown of Vancouver at the Orpheum Theatre on August 9 (rescheduled from the original date of May 31), and tickets were literally sold out in seconds: 180 of them, to be exact, or a scant three minutes. The only show in recent memory to sell out so quickly is the pair of Lauryn Hill shows last May. Despite the move from the intimate Commodore Ballroom to the larger Orpheum, one feels that there was a missed opportunity for the newly-minted global superstar to sell out even larger venues or play over several nights.

But what’s so easy to like about Adele? It’s simple, really: she’s a blue-eyed soul singer, tinged with a hint of blues. Imagine a combination of Dusty Springfield’s grit, Kate Bush’s lush crooning, Bonnie Raitt’s rockabilly groove and Etta James’s growl, simmered to sonic perfection. Now add Lauryn Hill’s wisdom and sensibility to the mix, combined with Amy Winehouse’s wit (although unlike the recently deceased Winehouse, Adele has been clean and sober for years),  and you’ll understand the gift Adele shares with the world.

If you understand that 21 is a break-up album, 11 songs of pure heartbreak, anger, denial, grieving and, finally, acceptance, then you will understand why 21 is a runaway success. Adele wrote the album in the wake of the success of her debut album 19, which earned her two Grammy Awards including Best New Artist. The songs on 21 are the emotional wreckage from a devastating break-up. If that’s the case, breaking up has never sounded this good. The album opens with a barnstorming, raging powerhouse number (that would be “Rolling in the Deep”), and the defiant words:

“There’s a fire raging in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out of the dark”

This is the battle cry of the romantically thwarted. However, unlike so many other break-up anthems, Adele never goes for the cheap shot or delves into vulgarity. She is giving you your marching orders, and you will stomp out of the room to her beat, not yours. 

The majority of the album’s tracks are self-explanatory without being obvious: “Rumour Has It”; “Take It All”; “I’ll Be Waiting”. Had this been around during the original run of Sex and the City, they could have underscored the Carrie-Mr. Big romantic trajectory of seasons 2 and 3 using only this album and it would have worked perfectly. 21’s scars start to heal slowly from the initial burn, with each track, and moves towards eventual acceptance and resignation. There’s an inspired yet understated cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong”, the only non-original track here.

When she performed the album’s last call, “Someone Like You”, at the Brit Awards, album sales increased 890% overnight and the single went made an astonishing 46-point leap to the very top spot. Indeed, as the host said (and I repeat here), “sometimes all you need is a piano and a voice”. In fact, no music video has ever been recorded for “Someone Like You”, and that now-iconic performance serves as the official promotional clip for the song. Adele may not need the pyrotechnics of her fellow chart contemporary and piano virtuoso Lady Gaga, but the listening public responded similarly to Gaga because beneath the instrumentation, there is a warm, humane beating heart beneath the tough shell. It may be vulnerable and so emotionally raw it almost hurts to listen, but the powerful emotional connection between singer and audience is there.

Adele is currently on tour and lands in Vancouver on August 9 for her sold-out show. Click here for more tour dates. Just to give readers a chance to hear what you and I will miss (tear, sad face, tear, repeat ad infinitum), here’s “Someone Like You”.