English singer Adele Adkins is the latest in an illustrious long line of British soul singers.
There are quite a few: Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Annie Lennox, Amy Winehouse, Florence Welch.
Further back, there’s Vera Lynn, although not classified as soul, some would argue that.
Adele’s popularity and staying power indicate at least that people seem to crave an expressive voice. Great pipes aside, her new album, 25, is a mixed bag in the song department and Adele panders to traditional, maudlin subject matter as she works her flair for the dramatic.
Send My Love (To Your New Lover) and I Miss You are regular tales of heartbreak dressed up in contemporary sounds. Remedy takes that feeling, puts it in a sparse ballad setting and shoots it through the ceiling.
Her delivery and note choices are gold and she proves herself to be one of the premier modern ballad interpreters with the right material.
Perhaps one of the notable and interesting characteristics of Adele (and some of her U.K. predecessors) is an absence of histrionics and show boating. Despite some predictable subject matter, the songs and production don’t glorify technique and bombast and pass it off as art.
Right now she’s got her shtick as the lovelorn soul siren but on River Lea she taps into something local and brings out a Celtic vibe and links the landscape to her motivation. It might be an overlooked track but it’s a deep and atmospheric song.
Million Years Ago is another song of that type and Adele sings this song like a classic in the making. It’s an evocative and familiar tune, an acoustic ballad in the tradition of Yesterday and many other songs, but Adele understands the theme and gets inside the tune.
25 is a strong recording that leans on emotion and familiar ideas, but when it goes beyond those, it connects.
– Dean Gordon-Smith reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.