I had the great honor to write a music review for the Presbyterian Outlook recently. Although this piece does not directly discuss my YAV year in DC, Adele's latest album, "25," has definitely become a soundtrack to my life, mostly because I have been listening to it so much. Many thanks to the Outlook for the opportunity to have my music critic debut. Below is the text of the article that you can find originally posted here. Hope you enjoy it!
Hello, it’s me.
She’s back. Finally, after a four-year hiatus, Adele has graced the world with more ballads that are sure to become instant karaoke classics. She explained that while “21,” her sophomore album, was a break-up album, “25” is more of a make-up album. This record clearly comes from a place of more life experience and maturity, something that particularly resonates with my own life’s path. I remember belting out “Someone Like You” before I was ready to acknowledge that an ended relationship was never going to have a resurrection. While I have not become a mother in the past four years, I have seen and learned more about the world that has also allowed me to journey toward a place of healing, wholeness and self-love, ready to let go of what once was. Even as Adele acknowledges that it is time to move on from the past, she still yearns for the positive aspects of those times, places and relationships.
Listening to the lyrics of “Hello,” it can appear that she is singing to a former lover, but I hear it more as a letter to her younger self: Hello from the outside/At least I can say that I’ve tried/To tell you I’m sorry, for breaking your heart/But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore. She has moved on past the heartbreaks that used to keep her up at night. As indicated by the overnight success of this first single, Adele is still making people experience all the feelings they forgot they had.
My personal favorite on the album is “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” which has a playful bounce and pop feel that can be compared to Taylor Swift’s sound. When writing this track, Adele expanded on something she wrote as a 13-year-old girl after a break up. That inspiration definitely comes through in the sound reminiscent of listening to No Doubt on the playground in middle school.
The driving beat under “I Miss You” was extremely motivating as I streamed the album at my desk at work; you have no idea how many emails I cranked out to this song. Her angelic high notes floating over an entrancing refrain give way to her second single from the album, “When We Were Young.” The lyrics drip with nostalgia and yearning for the past: You still look like a movie/You still sound like a song/My God, this reminds me/Of when we were young. As a young adult still trying to figure out this whole adult thing, it is easy to wish I were back in my college years, but I know that transitions and life experience have taken me further on my journey than was possible in that context.
“Remedy” is the song I would send to a close friend or family member in need of special care. Its vocal and lyrical warmth seeps into the soul in a way that it seemed clear to me that when writing the song, Adele was thinking of her love for her close friends and family. Turning the tables, “Water Under the Bridge” has a chill tropical groove, but a very different message: If you’re gonna let me down, let me down gently/Don’t pretend that you don’t want me/Our love ain’t water under the bridge. She wants to be given a respectful ending to their relationship so she can continue on in grace, valuing each other for who they are but knowing that what they have is only for a limited time. This request transcends the romantic realm of relationships and can venture into friendships or working relationships.
We find the ode to her roots in “River Lea,” a gospel ballad set to organ and hauntingly beautiful backup vocals. She explores tensions between the influences cast by where we were formed and the reality of never returning the same as when we left – a different tone from “Hometown Glory” on her first album, “19.” The farther I go from my own hometown, the more I realize how much it has shaped my story on a fundamental level, – but through my years as a Young Adult Volunteer in the Philippines and now in Washington, D.C., I know that I am still growing and have much to learn.
The album’s theme is a yearning for wholeness, healing, flourishing and closure. This is especially poignant against the strings in “Love in the Dark.” The acoustic guitar in “Million Years Ago” gives a nod to Spanish classical music and places the listener in a sleepy café, pondering past experiences and choices after exploring the streets. While listening to “All I Ask,” it might be difficult to discern if it is the last song of the night at the piano bar or the final night of a relationship. Perhaps this is a prequel to “Someone Like You.” The finale of the album is a pledge of “Sweetest Devotion” to a relationship. The percussion, electric guitar and swing-three-beat feel drive the song forward so that listeners are ready to proclaim that devotion to the next person they see. All in all, by the time you reach the end of the album, it is tempting to go back and experience it all again.
Rumor had it that Adele was not going to continue writing music, as she experienced severe writer’s block and health issues after achieving worldwide success with her last album. However, the birth of her son and the transition that comes with welcoming a new life into the world gave her the inspiration she needed to make up with herself and her past through “25.” We, her fans and avid listeners, thank her for this new album that speaks to our inner beings, passing through the transitions of life but yearning for the comforts of our past.