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Album Title: 21

Rating: 5/5 Pitchforks

Artist: Adele

Label: Columbia

Where does an artist go after bursting on the scene with a critically-acclaimed debut album and two Grammy Awards as a teenager? London-born Adele Adkins, known as just Adele, answers that question with the phenomenal “21,” due out on Feb. 22.

Adele’s new album is a follow-up to her first album, “19,” a well-received 2008 offering, and while they are similar thematically, “21” shows Adele’s maturing style and progress as a singer-songwriter. Just 22, she possesses a powerful voice and writes meaningful lyrics, and both are on display here.

Like its predecessor, “21” is an album about a broken relationship. Adele’s lyrics never feel contrived but instead carry a real sense of honesty and authenticity as she sings about heartbreak.

Adele sets the scene with the opening track “Rolling in the Deep,” singing, “There’s a fire starting in my heart/Reaching a fever pitch that’s bringing me out the dark” over the steady strums of a guitar. This passion is evident and unrelenting on each song.

Although she’s telling the story of a difficult breakup, Adele never gets stuck in a rut. On “Rolling in the Deep” she warns, “See how I’ll leave with every piece of you/Don’t underestimate the things that I will do,” but then on “Don’t You Remember” she’s almost apologetic, singing “Baby, please remember me once more.”

Throughout the album, Adele ranges from sad to yearning to angry, all the typical emotions associated with breaking up, and she does it without missing a beat.

Adele’s vocals, generally strong and soulful with a hint of country twinge, are the best part of the album. “He Won’t Go” is one of the more diverse tracks, both thematically and vocally, as Adele sings smoothly through the verses, building up to the chorus where she puts herself out there with the words “If this isn’t love, what is?/I’m willing to take the risk.”

While musically “21” is very well done, some of the best moments on the album feature simply Adele and a piano. “Take It All” and “Turning Tables” are great examples of this as Adele’s brilliant vocal work and thoughtful lyrics are accompanied and complimented by just a piano melody. This minimalistic style really works for Adele and allows her excellence as a singer and songwriter to shine.

From the crackling “Set Fire to the Rain” to the rhythmic “Rumour Has It,” listeners can really sense how much work and feeling Adele put into each track. The result is a much more consistent album than her debut.

Adele brings all her pain and heartache to “21” and has created a wonderful collection of songs about love and love lost. The album ends with “Someone Like You” as Adele sings, “Sometimes it lasts in love/But sometimes it hurts instead,” concluding the emotional journey through her breakup that we listeners are lucky she decided to bring us along for.

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