My first experience with her music started a few months ago. (She was already well into her heyday, but I had managed to remain totally ignorant of this new phenomenon.) I was having one of those days when you find out that your good friend is a junkie and has stolen your checkbook. Anyway, I'd landed into an exceptionally foul mood and was sitting on my brother's couch when he decided to strike up the old iTunes. The opening arpeggios of "Someone Like You" came through the speakers. I'd recently given my brother a Philip Glass album of solo piano music, and I thought this track was from that album. Then I heard that voice.
It's funny. Even though I was having an awful day, I was in a happy relationship at the time. But somehow the music transcended its theme of lost love and spoke directly to my more pressing circumstances. I wasn't pining after anyone, which is what the song is definitively about. For me, though, the song transformed into a balm for disappointment, shock, and grief. And that voice…
The toolbox I have for critiquing classical singers just isn't sufficient to talk about Adele. No one cares about her vowel quality, air support, or precision in intonation. All of that goes out the window. What Adele has is pipes in abundance and sincerity to boot. You believe that the emotions in her songs are fully genuine. And that emotional credibility is backed up by two of the richest and most expressive vocal folds on the planet. What sells me on Adele is that she does waver in her intonation, ever so slightly. It's gritty and it's real, and it's clearly not over-produced. I was disgusted that Katy Perry's flimsy "Firework" was even nominated to go up against the musical might that is Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." Perry's static voice is but one cog in the well-oiled computer program that is "Firework." Maybe Katy really can sing, but we'd never know.
Also, let's just consider some of the lyrics from Katy Perry's chef d'oeuvre:
Make 'em go "Uh-uh-uh"
As you shoot across the sk-uh-uh-y.
Boom, boom, boom.
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon.
This is what Adele was up against. Because Adele's lyrics were so much better than what the rest of the pop world was spewing out, I assumed she was some kind of indie/underground singer until I saw 21 for sale in every checkout line of every store I went to during the next few weeks.
You know how the time flies:
only yesterday was the time of our lives.
We were born and raised in a summer haze,
bound by the surprise of our glory days.
I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited
but I couldn't stay away—I couldn't fight it.
I had hoped you'd see my face, and that you'd be reminded
that for me, it isn't over.
It's not Shakespeare, it's not The Decemberists, but it's good. It shows evidence that this woman has loved and lost and can eloquently express that experience in music and verse, which is more than I can say about Her Lady, the Dowager Duchess of Gaga and her insipid poker face.
While I'm invoking the name of her Ladyship (can you tell I watched Downton Abbey tonight?), it's also refreshing that Adele has had so much success without putting on the persona of an over-sexed kitten. When it comes to female pop stars, it seemed like there was no escape from skinny, busty, big-haired bimbos. This may seem shallow of me, but I love that Adele is being accepted and adored primarily for being a musician and not a sex icon. Also, did you see her at the Grammys? She's adorable. Anyway, after years of having strippers parade as singers, it's a true joy to watch a consumate musician rise to her full stature and seize the airwaves.
Hopefully, Adele's career is just starting. Hopefully, this surge in fame doesn't destroy her as it has so many other great artists. Whitney Houston cast an ominous shadow over Adele's success tonight. My wish is that the last track on that fantastic album 21, "I Found a Boy," will be the overture to the rest of her career. It's a brilliant mixture of blues, country, rock, and folk—a playful and virtuosic lagniappe.