A review of 21, the second album from the British songstress Adele.
While the rise of former BRIT School pupil Jessie J confirms that the London performing arts hothouse that spawned Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Kate Nash still has much to offer pop, the staying power of some of its key alumni is starting to look suspect.
With Winehouse still to produce a third album and Duffy and Nash's latest albums receiving lukewarm reviews, it is fellow BRIT graduate Adele Adkins who looks best equipped for the long game. Adkins, now a year older than 21's title suggests, is an able pianist and guitarist as well as a precociously soulful singer.
Better yet, she has clearly approached the potentially tricky follow-up to her Grammy-winning debut 19 with due diligence and forethought. The presence of Midas-touch producer Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash; Neil Diamond) seems key here, the spare, simpatico arrangements he has overseen always careful not to drain power from Adele's rootsy, beautifully turned songs.
The standout track Rumour Has It is a primitive and hugely infectious affair channelling call-and-response vocals, while Turning Tables successfully pitches camp somewhere between Alicia Keys and Aretha Franklin.
Lyrically speaking, heartache remains Adele's key source of inspiration, but, crucially, her lyrics often have a stoical or magnanimous quality that's hugely refreshing. Other than the limp cover of The Cure's Lovesong, 21 is gutsy, impressive stuff.