Adele’s “21”

Cover for Adele's album 21

This week, I’ve been listening to Adele’s second album “21” from 2011. I first became aware of Adele with the song “Chasing Pavements” from her debut album. She reminded my wife and I of singers like Duffy and Amy Winehouse who were doing a revival of jazzy-blues soul in pop music during the aughts. I thought Adele was a fantastic singer, but the songs didn’t grab me quite as much as those of Duffy and Winehouse. I heard “21” a lot in the house after it came out, but I never really spent time listening to it on my own until now. Though they’re still not really to my tastes, these are good solid songs worth the time.

Rumour Has It

The second track “Rumor Has It” provides a good example of story-telling in song. The narrator is speaking to a man with whom she shares feelings. He’s already with a young woman, but is secretly seeing the narrator on the side. It seems that he has been talking too much, because rumors are getting around. And now the singer hears that he is planning on leaving his lover for the narrator. Ah, but with the last line, she sticks the knife in: “But rumor has it, he’s the one I’m leaving you for.”

The lyrics tell none of this through straight narrative; It is revealed through what is likely a soliloquy. The songs consists of two verses, a prechorus, and a bridge. The bridge provides foreshadowing for the twist at the end, “Just because I said it, don’t mean that I meant it; Just because you heard it…” The verses following an AABBCD rhyme scheme, using slant rhymes: “real” with”will” and “age” with “strayed.” The chorus is pure hook, consisting of the repeated phrase, “rumor has it, rumor has it.”

The music mixes big-band swing drums with pop soul. The instrumentation is actually pretty simple. The vocals drive the song while being supported by the drums. Bass, piano, strings, and electric guitar provide further accompaniment, but these sit back in the mix. It’s the backing “oooo” and “rumor has it” backing vocals that are brought more forward.

Set Fire to the Rain

A lone piano opens “Set Fire to the Rain” with an arpeggio. After four bars, the vocals and a simple tom-drum pattern enter. After eight more bars, a bass guitar joins filling in the bottom end. There are then eight more bars to the first verse before the pre-chorus begins. With the pre-chorus, the strings begin to come in quietly in the background, the vocals drop down a little in energy. There’s a brief rest and then the chorus starts. The chorus brings the strings in full with the vocals rising up in energy and pitch. It’s a very aughts way to do a chorus, for a while it was almost part of the definition. For a while, I made a point of writing choruses that did the opposite, but even then I realized that even the opposite is a variation of the same.

Someone Like You

Adele closes the album with one of the best tracks, “Someone Like You.” The instrumentation is beautifully and emotionally simple, just piano and lead vocals. The bridge presents the only exception, with Adele singing her own backing vocals. The piano plays a spinning arpeggio that follows the same melodic pattern through most of the track. The vocals really indicate the difference between verse and chorus.

The refrain before each chorus is well-written heart-breaking and catchy set of lyrics. The great line “I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited” sticks with you. The sparse instrumentation and the slight drop down in energy into the refrain emphasizes the emotion, there’s a touch of shame in the sadness. It’s absolutely that feeling one has after a break-up before fully letting go. That bit of a thread remains, even when the relationship is gone. If only they knew…

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it
I had hoped you’d see my face
And that you’d be reminded that for me, it isn’t over

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