Adele 25 review: New album arrives to save the music industry

'It's certainly got the pedigree to succeed if any one album could'

So finally, it’s here. For once, an album release genuinely merits the overused epithet “eagerly awaited” - as not just fans, but music business operatives too, wait on tenterhooks to see if Adele’s 25 can generate enough business to save an entire industry from slow strangulation by download. 

It’s certainly got the pedigree to succeed, if any one album could. In previous eras, music industry insiders would be familiar with the syndrome of the five-album purchaser who would dictate the year’s big successes - the person who was not a music fan as such, but bought only five albums each year. Those albums would slip past taste-makers and hipsters with an apparently effortless momentum, driven by genuine populist taste: in the Eighties, their number included the likes of Phil Collins, Sade, George Michael, Alison Moyett and Paul Young.

Now, of course, things are much more atomised and uncertain, and it may be that those casual consumers have already been swept up by the download revolution; but the industry has a shrewd notion that they’re still out there, and if they are, then Adele is almost the perfect exemplar of what they want from their rare foray into pop: soulful, down-to-earth, not overly concerned with style, and blessed with the rare gift to touch hearts simply through the timbre and inflection of her voice. 

The anticipation has been carefully stoked through the past few months, first by leaked rumours and suppositions, including the revelations of snubbed collaborators that led Phil Collins to describe her as “slippery”, followed by the release of little sting videos like the one in which she sings “When We Were Young”, then more concretely by the release of “Hello”, with its monochrome promo video featuring Adele shouting at a pond about an argument that seemed to happen years before, and complaining that “How come when I call you, you never seem to be home?”.

To which query there are two obvious answers, the first being that the phone box is overgrown with creepers and clearly out of order. The second is that her call involves the invitation for a former lover to meet up and “go over everything”, which in an unscientific survey of the things most men would least like to do was only narrowly beaten by being stuck in a broken lift with the presenters of Loose Women

“Hello” is the opening track of 25, and it ticks all the boxes required by the five-album punter, from the sombre piano chords portending emotional torment, to the carefully-modulated build to a satisfying emotional climax. It’s the first of three tracks produced by Greg Kurstin, though both “Water Under The Bridge” and “Million Years Ago” are far subtler in style, the arrangements pared back to just percussion and lone guitar figures, to allow Adele’s banked background vocals to carry the songs.

As both titles suggest, the theme of regretful reminiscence dominates the album in the autobiographical manner demanded these days of every R&B don and diva, from Bieber to Rihanna - as if it bestows some kind of authenticity on the material. The same applies to “When We Were Young”, co-written with Tobias Jesso Jr., in which the remembered events are compared, with a queasy circularity, to media narratives: “It was just like a movie, it was just like a song”. No, it really was a song, I think you’ll find. 

There are isolated moments of musical intrigue scattered here and there through the album - the Danger Mouse-produced “River Lea”, for instance, has a cavernous moodiness that falls away near the end to reveal Adele’s intricately-layered acappella vocals, and the track helmed by Swedish pop svengalis Max Martin & Shellback, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”,  features even more ingeniously-arranged banks of harmonies layered to sound like a playground skipping-song.

But as 25 continues, it’s gradually swamped by the kind of dreary piano ballads that are Adele’s fall-back position, produced by the likes of Ryan Tedder and Bruno Mars’ Smeezingtons operation. It leaves things sounding a little too much like they had been designed by committee - which, on reflection, is probably exactly what those industry types were so eagerly awaiting.