Published Jan 29 2008, 10:51 GMT | By Nick Levine
Bizarre as it sounds, the Adele backlash had begun before she'd even released an album. After 'Hometown Glory', her stark, haunting debut single, earned rave reviews, the BBC voted her the most promising new artist of 2008 and she collected the Critics' Choice prize, a new Brit Award with no obviously discernible purpose, the air started to turn. Who does this Adele think she is? She certainly
isn't as good as Amy Winehouse, you know. In fact, the naysayers were barely able to suppress their glee when 'Chasing Pavements'
, her second single, was held off the number one spot by Basshunter's 'Now You're Gone', a fairly anonymous Swedish dance record. Adele's only crime, it seems, was to be in the right place at the right time.
Nevertheless, in the light of the expectation that's been heaped on Adele's young shoulders, the sheer ordinariness of 19
comes as a surprise. Largely recorded with Jim Abbiss, the producer of the Arctic Monkeys' debut album, it flits between pretty, acoustic folk ('Daydreamer'), hints of jazz ('Crazy For You'), a touch of Joss Stone-style gospel-pop ('Best For Last') and plenty of acoustic soul (virtually everything else here). Three collaborations with pop hitmaker Eg White (Will Young, Kylie, Natalie Imbruglia) offer fuller production – brass, lashings of strings, even some ill-advised electro bleeps on 'Tired' - but, at their core, Adele's songs are simple, elegant and very
self-absorbed. Well, she is a teenager getting over her first love affair, you know.
At times, thanks partly to Adele's predilection for mid-tempo, and partly to her producers' desire to keep things authentically retro, 19
veers towards blandness. The MOR soul of 'Melt My Heart To Stone', for instance, is saved from banality only by a show-stopping vocal from the young Londoner. When Mark Ronson jolts Adele out of her comfort zone for the dramatic, sassy 'Cold Shoulder', getting her to play the wronged woman over some white hot funk percussion, the results are spectacular. Sadly, it's the only cut to which Ronson's golden touch is applied.
However, even 19
's less compelling moments are saved by the wonder of Adele's voice. Rich, powerful and husky in all the right places, it's worth every ounce of the praise with which it's been lavished. Though her lyrics can seem naïve – "I like to sit on chairs and you prefer the floor", she explains on 'My Same', seemingly nicking a choice couplet from Paula Abdul's 'Opposites Attract' – she's an engaging presence - alternately sassy, vulnerable, needy, apathetic and even, on 'Hometown Glory', a little bit political. The inescapable conclusion? Though, as an album, 19
rarely attains greatness, it suggests Adele soon will.