Three years on from her 19 debut, 21 finds Adele feigning maturity – "I was a child then", she claims in "I'll Be Waiting" – though in many cases here, that apparently involves a sad capitulation to the kind of dreary ballads and overwrought delivery that does her few favours.
Things begin well enough with the single "Rolling in the Deep", with its thumping piano quadruplets and gospelly backing vocals, and continues reasonably with the galumphing Tom Waits-style arrangement of "Rumour Has It"; until, two-thirds of the way through the song, it grinds to a halt for a slower, torchy middle eight. This proves a harbinger of the rest of the album, which sinks into a mire of turgid, characterless piano balladry swamped in routine string arrangements, the sole respite from which comes in the deep soul number "One and Only", her best vocal performance here.
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