Friday, June 24, 2011

Adele's 21 - Perfect Heartbreak

Sometimes what makes art moving is its shear perfection, regardless of whether or not you can relate to the specifics of it. In most cases, for me, that perfection is the result of the artist putting their very heart and soul into their art. It's like you're left experiencing the pure essence of humanity in the painting, song, movie, photograph or whatever the piece may be. These things become timeless. An album that recently has done this for me is Adele's 21. And from the looks of it, I'm not the only one it's worked for. The impact of this album is huge when you consider the fragmented world we live in where everyone has their little niche of music they like and that's fine. The age of the great artist who also has mass appeal was supposed to be dead and irrelevant really, because it doesn't matter. I for one was glad for that. But along comes Adele with an album that is undeniably great. Everyone loves her and rightfully so.

What makes it even better for me, is that it's a break-up album, a genre with a long history of albums I love. It's brilliance, like all great break-up albums, is that it manages to suck you in to what the artist is expressing and you are right there with her in sad, beautiful pain. But she doesn't just take you to the depths right off. The album starts with a one two punch from "Rolling in the Deep" and "Rumor Has It" that, while great songs, make you think this will be more "I Will Survive" than Disintegration. But then comes "Turning Tables" and we know we're in for something more with the stripped down production and vocal that sounds like it's coming from a smoky room. And this production style is what allows Adele's voice to take you on the journey the rest of the album is. To listen to this album, alone in your head, and not be moved is to not be human, I think. I can't come up with another singer right now that conveys as much emotion, just in her tone and phrasing, than Adele. And I'm not even talking about the songwriting, but yes, these are classically written songs that will absolutely still be relevant in 50 years. On NPR's All Songs Considered podcast, Bob Boilen said of Adele that she has a voice that could easily oversing everything, but she doesn't. That's exactly right. She's not showing off, because she doesn't have to. Her talent is obvious and not the point. Her voice is her tool and her essence at the same time. She's not so much performing as she is expressing herself.  To make it a gymnastic showcase would be vulgar and unnecessary. She knows that.

Listening to this album from beginning to end, puts me in the mind of couples I know who haven't made it . I don't know the details of these break-ups anymore than I know the details of what Adele is singing about. But it doesn't matter. If music brings us together, then music about heartbreak does so even more. It's one thing to dance in a group and share joyful music, but to be connected with someone's pain is much more intimate, even when the pain is non-specific or not even spoken of. The emotional dots connected when Adele sings "Don't You Remember" are powerful and real. I don't have to paint a story in my head about Adele or people I may know, because it goes beyond the story to the emotion. Yes, something has ended and there's hurt and anger and longing and memories: these are the things that connect us. Not events. Not situations. Emotions. And this is just me, removed from these situations, happily married, listening to this album.

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