Of course, Adele. I can’t tell you how often I hear people complain about how much Adele sings about breakups. And how often I hear that her ex-boyfriend must feel like a total tool. But it’s true; she can sure sing a sad song (“Turning Tables,” anyone?).
But as much as some of the individual songs on 21 are great breakup songs, it’s not my pick. Over and over again, I find myself preferring 19.
19 is not as whiny as 21. When I listen to 21, it makes me sad to have been dumped. Also angry. As awesome as some of the songs are, putting them all together without enough balance makes the album a huge downer if you’ve actually just gotten out of a relationship (I should have known my relationship was doomed when 21 was playing in his car).
19, however, leaves me feeling a melancholy peace about my relationship. Yeah, I lost him. Yeah, it’s over. But it’s not the end. There is more coming, something better (?), another shot, anything. 19 is generally hopeful, and therefore edifying.
And I think that Adele captures the complexity of immediate feelings better on 19. One of my personal favorites, “Best For Last,” smashes desire and anger together to a light, mocking melody. And then the question of waiting in “Chasing Pavements.” If you love someone, is it worth waiting for them to change, or should you just give up? A question we all ask ourselves in the melee of post-breakup world.
Another thing about21, sometimes it just seems phony (pardon me for talking like a Caulfield). I mean, “Someone Like You” always rubs me the wrong way because it just feels a little too hokey and a little too camp. However, songs like “Cold Shoulder” and “First Love” have an air of realism about them that is engrossing.
Now, the next notch on my list is maturity. Adele is often credited as being incredibly advanced musically, and both 21 and 19 are tour de forces of musicality. 19 is a little bit softer, a little bit more acoustic (and my folk/bluegrass background latches onto acoustic in anything). The music doesn’t overpower the lyrics, and the lyrics don’t disappoint the music. They work together in harmony to create beautiful songs. “Daydreamer” begins the album with a light acoustic vibe that progressively becomes more dynamic throughout the album, roughly through “Right as Rain,” after which the songs distill down to pounding, powerful piano. The progression of songs is planned and deliberate, and if you only ever listen to this album on shuffle, you are missing out on an incredible musical experience. And as far as social maturity goes, you won’t hear any misused language here (and I mean more than excessive cursing). Obviously “Make You Feel My Love” is the most poetic of the songs (being that it is a Bob Dylan cover), but the rest of the tracks live up to the Dylan standard well.
My next important question was the balance of songs that are dumping someone and the songs that are being dumped. As someone who has only had the experience of being dumped (one very bad, bitter experience), I have found that the anger in the dumping songs matched my rage, but the sorrow and the hope in the being dumped songs comforted me and reminded me that I am not alone in the world of woman scorned. Quite simply, I needed both. And I found this across the board, not just in Adele’s music. The essential thing with the songs on 19 is that they leave me feeling positive and sometimes (as in “Best For Last”) they express both extremes of emotion at once. Having a good balance of songs provides the cathartic release of emotion that we need when we have just too much and too many confusing ones to deal with from breaking up.
And one key for me is that there is something on this album that is not a pure breakup song. 19’s shining “Hometown Glory” is a poignant and melancholy ode to the streets of London. Ending this album with an homage to her hometown, Adele opens up the post-breakup world to the rest of the world. Life, quite simply, goes on. And it is beautiful in all of its complications and failings (“I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque”). This song is beautiful, and it is not a breakup song. But it is the only and perfect way to end this breakup album.