Adele's 2009 debut album, 19, was a Grammy-winning smash hit that revealed the British singer/songwriter's knack for bittersweet soul and folk-infused love songs that brought to mind an infectious mix of Dusty Springfield and Terry Callier. The album earned her a ton of fans, and interest was high for the inevitable follow-up. In many ways, her sophomore album, the similarly age-appropriate-titled 21, is a continuation of the sounds and themes Adele was working with on 19. She is still the bluesy pop diva with a singer/songwriter's soul and seemingly bottomless capacity for heartbreak. The best thing the album does is to showcase Adele's titanic vocal ability, which -- more than a few times on 21 -- is simply spine-tingling. Last time around we got the gauzy, Callier-esque folk-soul ballad "Daydreamer" to slowly draw us into the album; here, Adele immediately injects us with the propulsive gospel fever-blues anthem "Rolling in the Deep." While the track certainly owes a heavy debt to the punk-blues of Beth Ditto and the Gossip, it is also ridiculously sexy and one of the best singles of any decade. Elsewhere, we get tracks like the blues-inflected Ryan Tedder co-write "Rumour Has It" and the old-school-style soul cut "He Won't Go," which are terrifically catchy, booty-shaking numbers and exactly the kind of songs you want and expect from Adele. Similarly enthralling is the centerpiece of the album, the mega-ballad showstopper "Take It All." Co-written by her "Chasing Pavements" partner Francis White, the song begins with Adele proclaiming "Didn't I give it all?" Delivered starkly at first with Adele set against simple piano accompaniment and later backed by a gospel choir, it's an instant-classic sort of song in the tradition of "The Rose," "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going," and "All by Myself" that could stand over the years as a career landmark for the singer and a cathartic moment for fans who identify with their idol's Pyrrhic lovelorn persona. Ultimately, Adele does give us her all on 21, and for now that is enough. ~ Matt Collar
Rolling Stone (p.70) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "Adele has toughened her tone, trimmed the jazz frippery and sounds ready for a pub fight....When the grooves are fierce, Adele gives as good as she gets."
Rolling Stone (p.67) - Ranked #1 in Rolling Stone's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "21 was this year's most stunning pop success....The sound is state-of-the-art retro soul..."
Spin (p.75) - "[S]he wails harder and writes bolder, piling on the dramatic production flourishes to suggest a lover's apocalypse."
Entertainment Weekly (p.83) - "[T]his album is that rarest pop commodity: timeless." -- Grade: A-
Entertainment Weekly (p.99) - Ranked #1 in Entertainment Weekly's 'The Top 10 Albums Of 2011' -- "21 features a rare thing: a singer who can seriously sing, belting out inspired love songs inspired by another time on an album that feels genuinely timeless."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.108) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "'Rolling In The Deep' sounds thrillingly like a girl group govering Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy,' 'Rumour Has It' is a driving, bluesy stomp and 'Take It All' has Aretha written all over it."
Paste (magazine) - "On 21, she sounds refreshed and poised to attack....Adele emerges with a well-manicured batch of songs that, while still showcasing her interest in layered musicality, shoot straight for the pop charts..."
Clash (magazine) - "Adele is sincere, poignant and affecting throughout; the emotive 'Someone Like You' closes the album magnificently."