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Adam R. Holz

Album Review

It may have been Amy Winehouse, with her smoky, sultry vocals and a band that would have sounded right at home in, say, 1967, who did the most in the wider world of pop music to introduce fans to neo-soul. Next up was Aimee Anne Duffy, who followed Winehouse’s footsteps to a Top 5 debut with her album Rockferry. And then came Adele Adkins, the third Brit in a row to make a big name for herself by reenergizing the vibe of a musical era long past.

Adele was just 19 (hence the album’s title) when she put these 12 tracks to tape. But listening to this collection of world-weary laments about no-good, two-timing men, you’d be forgiven for thinking she was decades older. Throughout 19, Adele pines for what every girl wants: someone to love her for who she is. Alas, that’s not something she’s experienced much of, if these songs (all but one of which she wrote or co-wrote) are any indication.

Pro-Social Content

Adele’s romantic expectations take a beating here as she continually finds herself with deadbeat dudes. Often she stays with them despite the nagging knowledge that it’s not a good idea. Not a positive position to be in, obviously. Occasionally, though, she has moments of clarity and courage that empower her to walk away and try to start fresh. That happens on “First Love,” for instance, where she admits, “If I stay I’ll be a lie/Then choke on words I’d always hide/Excuse me, first love/But we’re through.” She also reaches the end of her rope on “Right as Rain,” as she sings, “Now I give up/On this endless game” and, accordingly, kicks a cad out (“There ain’t no room in my bed/ … So wipe that dirty smile off/We won’t be making up”). On many songs, Adele vacillates regarding whether or not to keep investing in dead-end relationships. She doesn’t always (or even usually) make good decisions, but her plaintive lyrics reveal a vulnerable heart and a longing to be cherished unconditionally. “Why is it every time I think I’ve/Tried my hardest it turns out it ain’t enough?/You’re still not mentioning love/Well, what am I supposed to do/To make you want me properly?” she sings on “Best for Last.” One of the few tunes on 19 that doesn’t take a tumultuous turn is a cover of Bob Dylan’s 1997 track “Make You Feel My Love.” Over and over, the lyrics promise faithful commitment: “I could make you happy, make your dreams come true/Nothing that I wouldn’t do/Go to the ends of the earth for you/To make you feel my love.” Similarly, “My Same” stays sappy and evades tragedy. “I thought I knew myself, somehow you know me more,” Adele says of one of the few nice guys on this album. “You’re the first to make up whenever we’d argue/I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t know you.” “Hometown Glory,” meanwhile, is the only song here that doesn’t directly deal with love. Adele wanders through her hometown admiring its comforting and familiar sights and people, singing, “‘Round my hometown/Memories are fresh/ … Oh the people I’ve met/Are the wonders of my world.”

Objectionable Content

Unfortunately, Adele’s ode to her hometown also includes two s-words.

Other problematic content includes some obvious sexual references. On “Daydreamer,” we hear, “He is a real lover/Of making up the past/And feeling up his girl/Like he’s never felt her figure before.” Less direct but still suggestive are these lines on “Crazy for You”: “I wish you’d come over/Send me spinning closer to you/My oh my, how my blood boils/It’s sweetest for you/It strips me down bare/And gets me into my favorite mood.”

“Crazy for You” also voices a sentiment than runs just under the surface in almost every song on 19: the idea that salvation is found in love. “Pacing floors and opening doors/hoping you’ll walk through/And save me, boy/Because I’m too/Crazy for you.”

Adele’s unquenchable urge to find ultimate meaning in romance perhaps explains her propensity for staying with guys she’d be better off without. On “Daydreamer,” she tries to convince herself that a good-looking, smooth-talking slacker could be the man of her dreams. And on “Best for Last,” she can’t bring herself to break things off with a guy who doesn’t reciprocate her affection (“But despite the truth that I know/I find it hard to let go”). Even more dysfunctional, she admits, “The meaner you treat me/More eager I am/To persist with this heartbreak.” Similar ambivalence about bad relationships turns up on “Chasing Pavements,” “Cold Shoulder,” “Melt My Heart to Stone” and “Tired.”

Summary Advisory

Adele’s debut is a case study in looking for love in (mostly) all the wrong places. A few songs suggest that the singer is on the verge of finding what she’s so desperately looking for. Most of the time, though, she’s left all alone, painfully trying to piece together the fragments of her broken heart.

Musically, it’s dramatic, compelling stuff. And the lyrical content, even acknowledging the two vulgarities that push “Hometown Glory” completely out of bounds, is far cleaner and far more circumspect than that of the vast majority of pop singers out there right now—on either side of the big pond. But Adele’s pervasive worldview—that salvation is found in the arms of the right man and that even a not-right man might be worth clinging to—isn’t a healthy one for us to cling to.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

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