Tucked between the grand, tear-stained ballads and the startling delvings into full-blown pop on Adele’s much-anticipated third studio album, 25, sits the most heartbreaking song she has recorded to date.
The 27-year-old superstar is no stranger to shattered love and has built a multiplatinum career out of her uncanny ability to channel all of her hurt and disappointment into music that often swells and roars and declares, so it’s surprising that 25’s most poignant moment is rendered so simply.
“I only wanted to have fun,” she sings on Million Years Ago, her supple voice backed only by producer and co-writer Greg Kurstin’s delicate acoustic guitar and bass. “I feel like my life is flashing by/And all I can do is watch and cry/I miss the air, I miss my friends/I miss my mother, I miss it when/Life was a party to be thrown/But that was a million years ago.”
The regret seeps from every syllable, laying bare an intriguing ambivalence — Adele’s catalog, to this point, hasn’t been shy about embracing a black-and-white breakdown of relationships, whether romantic or otherwise — and suggesting that, for all of her fame and recognition, what Adele covets more than a stable lover is simply the ability to live without a spotlight trained upon her.
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There’s no orchestra needed — the sentiment lands like a shot to the solar plexus.
Adele saves the strings, rib-cracking high notes and bombast for elsewhere on the 11-song record, all of which she co-wrote with a coterie of high-powered (and exclusively male) collaborators. Bruno Mars, Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) lend a hand, with varying degrees of success.
Those expecting the intoxicating blend of influences — gospel, R&B, jazz, folk — found on the Grammy-winning Brit’s first two albums may be thrown by the album’s dead aim at the pop mainstream.
The record is all but guaranteed to be a blockbuster, but Adele seems determined to showcase more than just her torch singer persona throughout 25: Send My Love (to Your New Lover) is a kicky, vivid 180 from the album’s swooning, chiaroscuro opener, Hello, just as the bewitching, sinuous River Lea is diametrically opposed to the tender, vaguely Ray of Light-ish Sweetest Devotion, a gorgeous ode to her son, Angelo. (His voice is heard fleetingly at the song’s beginning and conclusion.)
In the promotional blitz leading up to 25’s release, Adele has stated this album will be the final installment of her unofficial “age” trilogy.
While such news is bittersweet, it’s also something of a relief — she wisely realizes she cannot keep making variations on the same record and maintain her sanity. The undertow of regret and recriminations could only drown her, and as is evident on 25, Adele wants to explore more of herself than just those she’s loved and lost.
For the most part, Adele pulls off a rather tricky balancing act on 25.
Fans get what they’ve been craving for the past four years, she says what’s on her mind, and at the end of it all, the pop superstar is, in surprisingly graceful fashion, allowed to re-join life — the rich, rewarding party being thrown that she’s been too distracted to enjoy.