Most of the mentions of Adele manage to compare, and lump her into the same category, as Duffy.
They made their debut at about the same time, singing similar material. 

But with Duffy's non-success last year with her sophomore album, and Adele's issuance of her second, perhaps those comparisons are no longer valid. 

Or perhaps history is repeating itself. 

Think back to the long tradition of British songstresses, and you might see a similar pattern, at least in how time has played tricks on some of them. 

Vera Lynn - revered singer who peaked in popularity during the Second World War, has managed to live on (both literally and otherwise) in the hearts of her country, to the extent of having a number one album just last year. What of the other singers of the era? Alma Cogan, the "girl with the giggle in her voice"? All but forgotten. 

During the 1960s, the rise of Dusty Springfield eclipsed a small crowd of others, including Sandie Shaw. We keep hearing about various biopics being devoted to Dusty, but nobody's mentioned one for Sandie. 

That brings us to the present, and the fact that Adele has been set as a pair with Duffy since the beginning of both their careers. 

This is perhaps unfair to Duffy, who after all made some brilliant music on her debut. "Rockferry" certainly matches "Hometown Glory" in pathos and poignancy, but it seemed everyone was ready for Duffy to screw up her comeback, and equally as ready to laud Adele.

Now Adele has released the uneven "21". It's an album of contradictions, where the singer has done many, many things right, but has also fallen back on some of the hoariest cliches of her genre on the same record. 

"Rolling In the Deep" immediately announces that we're dealing with a new and rougher version of Adele here, one that can belt out blues and gospel with the best. With carefully placed and clever background vocal arrangements, a thumping bass, and a relentless rhythm, the song is a piece of pop genius. 

Then she manages to blow credibility with the standardized arrangement of "Rumour Has It", co-written and produced by the bete noir of modern pop, Ryan Tedder. The song does slow down two-thirds of the way through for a heartwringing vocal, but then jumps back into the annoying thonk-thonk it began with. Bleah. 

Tedder also cowrites "Turning Tables", but the illustrious production here is left to someone else. It becomes very much old Adele here, with swooping strings and stately piano. But it's GOOD old Adele; this is one of the things she does best. It's sugary, sure, but not sickly sweet. 

It takes a little while for the album to kick into gear again, which it does with "Set Fire To the Rain". Now we're back in brilliant territory, as the near-march rhythm builds to a subtle chorus. "He Won't Go" continues the outside-of-the-box trend, introducing itself with a steady drumbeat, another gorgeous vocal, and little flourishes and accents that keep it from becoming mundane. 

There are two ballads that are only piano and vocal; one of them is mediocre, the other wonderful. The lesser of the two is "Take It All", which - like everything else - is sung well enough, but the addition of the gospel choir backing reminds one of the worst excesses of X Factor winners. The perfect one closes the album, and is called "Someone Like You". Already charting into the top 40 on its own merits, here the piano takes on a more tumultuous tone, and the vocal is just downright heartbreaking. 

Which brings up a point about Adele that I'm sure most of you have noticed : are there any songs she sings which AREN'T about being lovelorn and lost? Not on this album, there aren't. Admittedly, this is the niche she's found for herself, and she does it like no other, but sooner or later she's got to write about something else. 

I've got the "HMV Deluxe" edition of the album to listen to, so that adds on a couple of tracks that are covers, done with just voice and guitar. They're both good, too - which goes to show that the more you "produce" Adele, the more humdrum she becomes. A note to her handlers, then : shut up and let the girl sing. It almost always works when she does that. 

One more gem on the album that I didn't mention, and that's the cover of the Cure's "Lovesong". Here's a song that's been done to death already, but Adele actually manages to add to the legend, and Rick Rubin's production is subtle. 

All of this makes "21" a good album, but there are those occasional cloying, annoying touches that I'm hoping Adele will learn to keep away from. The woman is on the way to becoming a world-class and world-famous talent; that's why we have to keep expectations high. She deserves no less. 

I give "21" a 7.5 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.
 


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