ALBUM THROWBACK: ADELE | 21 (2011)
In celebration of the recent release of Adele's latest single, "Easy On Me," we look back at one of her biggest-selling albums in world history. Adele's second album, "21," released on 24 January 2011, needs a minimal introduction. The themes of heartbreak, resilience and recovery are well-known. But the fact is that many artists have addressed romance throughout pop’s history – it’s pretty much the oldest subject there is – but almost none of them have made this topic resonate with the general public as much as Adele did with these eleven songs. Becoming the biggest selling album in the UK of 2011 and 2012, it changed both the scale and nature of Adele’s success entirely. Taking the promise she showed on her debut album, expanding her influences and showcasing more of her incredible vocal talent, Adele dropped "21" and forever left her mark on music.
Writing "21" during a three-month stint, it was clear that Adele wanted to process her grieving period through emotive stories and a lingering Southern blues influence. While the album was a final breakup requiem, Adele’s vocals were combative, particularly on foot-stomping lead single “Rolling In The Deep,” which seamlessly depicted the denial stage of grief. Though the song was initially meant to be a demo, it became Adele’s first US #1 hit and stayed in the pole position for seven straight weeks, the second-longest run in 2011 behind Rihanna's "We Found Love" "21" yielded a multitude of singles, including “Rumour Has It,” co-written by songwriter and OneRepublic lead singer Ryan Tedder, Adele tempestuously bellowed to a past lover about her desire to reconcile. Her vocals shower the entire track, with the chorus belting from Adele’s gut with the atmospheric pacing of an oncoming train. The fire was a repeated motif throughout "21," from the “fire starting in my heart” on “Rolling In The Deep” to the piano-laden melodrama of “Set Fire To The Rain.” Adele continued to grapple with life’s unceasing curveballs when, midway through recording 21, she found out her ex was newly engaged. An album that had been sinewed with anger became a vulnerable refuge. Closer “Someone Like You” was appropriately cushioned within the final stage of grief: acceptance.
It is remarkable how there's a song or two on "21" to match any emotional stage of a breakup. Ready to burn it all down? "Rolling In The Deep" is there for you. Longing for a new love? The funky "He Won't Go" or "I'll Be Waiting" deliver. And for those who need to scream and cry, powerful ballads like "Set Fire To The Rain" and "Someone Like You" are Adele's emotional gifts to you. Plenty of albums have tapped into emotional truths; few have endured like "21." The timelessness of the music and the hugely broad appeal of its influences round out the album. One standout track is the Rubin-produced "Lovesong," which has the prominent use of minor keys, as do the jazz-based horns and rhythm of the Adele-Epworth collaboration "I'll Be Waiting." At the same time, the whole album is accessible to all through its backbone of piano-based arrangements, with a sound still relevant today and into the future.
"21" was the best-selling album of 2011 in the US and is one of only two albums released in the 2010s to be certified Diamond by the RIAA. (The other: Adele’s 25.) It spawned three American #1 singles in “Rolling In The Deep,” “Someone Like You,” and “Set Fire To The Rain.” The album earned three honours from "The Guinness Book Of World Records" for its performance on the UK charts, including the records for most consecutive weeks at #1 (11) and most weeks at #1 overall (18) by a female solo artist. Adele’s breakup may have been a temporary hurdle, but it spawned an album whose legacy was a testament to her enduring fortitude. Still, "21" continues to resonate with audiences in 2021 as much as it did in 2011. Boasting a wide array of musical elements, the album pushed Adele's considerable talents to even newer heights.