Adele: 19

Ron Hart

Young heartache never sounded as beautiful as it does through the sounds of England's latest R&B export's gorgeous debut LP.



Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: 2008-01-28

I’m not even going to front on you readers here and pretend I’m this all-knowing expert on the new wave of R&B songbirds who seem to be hemorrhaging out of the UK the past couple of years.

As a matter of fact, it has always been my MO as a writer to steer clear of any kind of overblown trend, be it emo or electroclash or the ridiculously-titled “raw rock” or pop-punk or grime or freak-folk or whatever flavor-of-the-month genre music journos seem to have flocked to at one point or another over the last ten years.

British diva R&B has certainly been the hot point for a while now, and given its representation, it looks as though its time in the limelight should have come to pass somewhere between Lily Allen’s Visa denial and Amy Winehouse’s recently YouTubed crack session. I never paid much mind to any of it, really. Winehouse's Back to Black has been slowly growing on me as a perfectly okay retro-soul LP, but her tragic life is a total turn-off, regardless if she put out an album that rivals Aretha’s Spirit in the Dark. Allen is very, very nice to look at, but that music is way too cutesy for my tastes, although I’m sure my 22-year-old cousin loves her. Leona Lewis, well, I was never much for those Top 40 belter types. Corinne Bailey-Rae is waaay too bland for a black girl, while Kate Nash and Duffy are essentially riding the coattails of the hype and will be as relevant five years from now as one-time Lilith Fair-era one-hit-wonders Meredith Brooks and Merrill Bainbridge are today.

Twenty-year-old Adele Adkins, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the tabloid fodder who have inundated the mainstream in that she actually seems to have a good head on her shoulders. Sure, the London native is brash, having rendered the Arctic Monkeys as “fucking idiots” in a recent article in the May 2008 issue of the British music magazine Q after they dissed her (and Winehouse’s) alma mater, the prestigious BRIT School of performing arts, during this year’s Brit Awards ceremony, where she herself took home the Critics’ Choice Awards. “Think they’re working class,” she continued in her anti-Monkey rant. “They’re mums are art teachers, ain’t they?” And she likes to party just like any other 20-year-old girl as well, as mention of her love for lager in the same article seems to indicate.

But her vices come with an air of confidence that give her a precocious, Artful Dodger-esque quality that makes the idea of her chugging pints and flipping off British indie royalty charming, not tragic. She’s the kind of girl you could see yourself settling down with in your 30s, which for her at her age, is not exactly something you want to hear. And therein lies the concept of her astounding debut album, 19, a collection of songs that ache with the longing of the perfect would-be girlfriend who just can’t seem to find the right bloke her own age to recognize that she’s such a major catch. She’s a buxom beauty with “a little more to love”, as it would say on her own private MySpace page. But given that most guys, especially in England, seem to prefer anorexic Kate Moss clones who just smile and wave their way through life than real girls, one can see where Adele is coming from in her music, especially on tracks like the vibrant first single, “Chasing Pavements” and her heartbreaking, seemingly Randy Newman-inspired rendition of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love”.

This is music, mind you, that clear blows the roof off any other blue-eyed R&B album that has come out of Great Britain since Macca got down with Stevie Wonder. Boasting a trio of producers that includes Mark Ronson, Eg White and Jim Abbiss, 19 indeed boasts several distinct sounds by which Adele is given to do her thing. These are utilized quite harmoniously to fit her powerhouse vocal delivery, a stirring combination of her diverse influences ranging from the Cure’s Robert Smith to Philly soul queen Jill Scott to legendary rhythm 'n’ folk chanteuse Karen Dalton.

Ronson delivers his proto-soul power to but one track here, the album’s second single, “Cold Shoulder”, which rivals anything on Back to Black and makes one wish he harbors more of a creative presence on her next album. However, Abbiss, known for his board work on albums by the likes of such new school UK rockers as Kasabian, Editors, and Adele’s fave, those pesky Arctic Monkeys, offers up beautifully spare arrangements, using nothing more than bass, acoustic guitars and piano, that really bring out Adele’s voice to peak performance, particularly on 19’s one-two punch pair of opening tracks, “Daydreamer” and “Best for Last”. One can possibly hear the crackle of old vinyl copies of Carole King’s Tapestry and Roberta Flack’s First Take being played in the background if you listen hard enough through a good sound system.

Meanwhile White, known for his work with such pop luminaries as Kylie Minogue and Yaz singer Alyson Moyet as well as extensive work on Duffy’s Rockferry, drapes Adele’s voice in lush string arrangements here on songs like “Chasing Pavements” and “Melt My Heart to Stone”, which helps punctuate the power of her enormous voice more effectively, but also feel a little too gaudy when sitting beside the production of Abbiss and Ronson. But don’t be surprised if White’s songs on 19 are the ones you will most likely hear over the PA the next time you get dragged to Bed, Bath and Beyond with the missus.

Adele Adkins is certainly the real deal, standing before what could potentially be a monster career with worldwide crossover, one that could prove that her staying power is far more plausible than those of her tabloid-driven contemporaries. So long as she doesn’t start hanging out with Pete Doherty or finds true love and then starts to get all sappy, that is.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.