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25: A FIRST LISTEN, AGAIN

The date was 11/19/15. Barack Obama was still President. Nobody was wearing masks. Streaming was just starting to happen. Adele's 25 was due to drop and our own Simon Glickman shared his takeaways from a preview listening session. He later asked to be reimbursed for seven gin fizzes. As we await the arrival of the Columbia superstar's new set, let us stroll together down memory lane.

By now the world has had a second taste of Adele’s 25, the stunning ballad “When We Were Young,” which follows on the heels of opening salvo (and giant smash) “Hello.” Last night, a few of us lucky biz folk were permitted to hear the album in its entirety at a tiny Hollywood boîte, Pour Vous. After turning in our phones, signing an NDA (which we trust we’re not violating by writing this) and agreeing to a full cavity search, we let the XL/Columbia set wash over us without interruption. 

It’s powerful. 

Adele’s vocals have a range and force to rival any diva’s but none of the preciousness or attention-seeking—she goes right to the emotional heart of the song every time. In fact, she and her collaborators trust her voice so completely that they’ve stripped away the arrangements, in many cases, to only the barest elements. She frequently sings here with no more accompaniment than a jazz chanteuse fronting a piano trio.

Does that mean the album is retro? Not really. It seems to channel the entire history of pop while remaining contemporary. There are interesting tinges of the ’80s (dark, cinematic and vaguely tribal, a far cry from Tay’s shiny synth anthems), flashes of Lorde-esque minimalism and moments recalling the sumptuous sonic confections of Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Antonio Carlos Jobim

As on the first two songs that have come out, the rest of 25 is dappled with nostalgia, with themes of looking back and reluctantly letting go—of past loves, old dreams and former selves. There’s a lot of wisdom there; then again, Adele isn’t actually 25—though she’s still quite spry at 27. 

Even the tracks that didn’t jump out as classics on a single listen were strong, but 25 contains a handful that were, for me, instantly devastating. In a little while, “When We Were Young,” a supernova of heartbreak, will seem as though it’s been part of the pop canon forever. “Water Under the Bridge” is another stunner, as are “Love in the Dark,” with its intimate piano-and-strings underpinnings, and the stark “All I Ask.” And finale “Sweetest Devotion” is an efflorescence of joy in waltz time, a burst of golden light to banish those silvery clouds of loss. 

While the ballads are 25’s strong suit, there are several upbeat delights, notably the wildly percussive “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” and the bluesy, almost swampy “River Lea.” 

These are, of course, first impressions. I can’t wait to dive in again, until it feels like I’ve known every single song my entire life.

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ADELE ADELE ADELE
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ADELE ADELE
Adele Adele; Adele.
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(Adele.)
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