Pop Music in 2011: Everybody Loves Adele

Fighting the music scribe’s uniquely annoying desire to make definitive lists, I’m instead sharing some informal thoughts about what I noticed, loved and despised about pop music in the year 2011. 

She’s got the top-selling single and album of the year on iTunes, so it’s safe to assume that we’re all acquainted with Adele’s body of work. And many of us felt disappointed not once, but twice, when planned tour stops in North Texas were canceled due to vocal-chord-threatening illness. But we had her slam-bang-fantastic album, 21, to get us through the drought.

To be honest, I’d rather listen to that record on any given rainy day than be herded into Verizon Theatre to hear everyone around me sing along, drunk and off-f—–n-key. That’s, one, me being an early-onset curmudgeon and, two, speaking to the intimate experience of listening to 21.

As chanteuse-centric albums go, it’ll be one that people come back to for years in times of need, along with Back to Black, Miseducation and Blue. Its success and relevance has a lot to do with Adele’s refusal to knock out a surefire hit parade in short order (ahem, Kelly Clarkson).

She took every step necessary to get it right, from juggling high-profile producers (Rick Rubin included) to giving herself extra time to let raw emotions bubble up. It’s been reported that she fought off a personal urge to go upbeat with her subject matter, mostly because her romantic life kept her down in the dumps.

Instead of forcing out a few happy songs for good measure, she reflected the stages of heartbreak and grief in 21’s track list.

For anger, you’ve got the Motown-informed smash “Rolling in the Deep,” the choreography-worthy “Rumor Has It” and “Set Fire to the Rain.” Fear of what’s next drives “He Won’t Go” and “I’ll Be Wating.”

And, finally, there’s the tear-extracting sadness and acceptance in “Someone Like You.” I swear, every time Adele hits that “don’t forget me, I beg” plea in the chorus, my heart drops a few centimeters. Yes, every time, even though it gets about a thousand rotations an hour on the radio. My reaction’s all too typical, considering SNL did an entire (overlong) sketch about it.

So, no, there’s not much to say about Adele that hasn’t been said, especially during the year-end race to list-o-mania. Let’s just raise a toast to the girl, and hope that she takes care of herself. Who knows what 25 will bring?

This talk of ages and British soulstresses brings to mind the fact that Amy Winehouse joined the morbidly-coined “27 Club” this year. And if anything’s been beaten into the ground more by writers than Adele, it’s the untimely passing of a singer who perhaps helped paved the way for her. There’s been a bit of comfort in recent weeks for this Winehouse fan, listening to the demos and one-offs collected in her posthumous release, Lioness. Nowhere near the cohesiveness of Back to Black, but it makes up for that in poignancy. She’ll always be missed.

 

Tomorrow, we lighten up a bit, discussing the ongoing battle between pop’s style-over-substance princesses. Go here for more year-end pop music highlights.

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