Few albums in recent memory have been as anticipated as the third release from Adele Adkins. Since backing up a truck at the Grammys to haul away all the trophies earned by her 2011 sophomore album, the 11-times-platinum "21," and scoring an Oscar for her theme to the James Bond film "Skyfall," her fans — and likely restless executives at her record company, eyeing the fourth-quarter balance sheet — have been hungering for more from the British songstress.
That anticipation is richly rewarded by the sublime "25." The album kicks off with first single "Hello" — a bit of windswept, skyscraping, rainy-day grandeur — and lingers in the neighborhood of that contemplative mood for much of the album's duration.
Recorded in London, Los Angeles, New York, and Stockholm with a variety of simpatico co-writers and producers — including Max Martin & Shellback, Ryan Tedder, Greg Kurstin, and Danger Mouse — "25" mulls love, loss, and lust.
Spoiler alert: There will be tears.
If "21" vaulted Adele considerably past her debut, "19," in studio scope and songwriting depth, she scales back a bit here, favoring and in some cases savoring sparseness — the better to showcase her mighty pipes. There's an ocean of solace to be had in just the outro of the gentle, destined-for-hitdom "Remedy," a spiritual cousin to the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You," as she wordlessly reassures someone — perhaps her young son? — that she will be a rock to cling to in the storm. Even a simple "mmmhmmm, mmmhmmm" is imbued with soulful force.
On "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" Adele, Martin, and Shellback marry a hitching groove to an admonishment: "Treat her better," she warns an old flame with a new love. "I Miss You," co-written and produced by longtime collaborator Paul Epworth, finds a keening, almost fevered Adele beseeching a lover to pull her into his gravity and "kiss me back to life." Bruno Mars and his producing partners in the Smeezingtons help Adele cook up a whopper of an 11 o'clock number in "All I Ask," which moves from plaintive to soaring as she asks "What if I never love again?"
Repeatedly, Adele looks back — "Hello," the melancholic anthem "When We Were Young," the churning "River Lea" — examining and reexamining the past, old love, getting older (she is 27 now), and aspirations to evolution. If there are no uptempo blazers on the order of "Rolling in the Deep" or "Rumor Has It," the album doesn't suffer in quality for the lack. And several tracks, including the Kurstin-produced, earwormy, hip-swiveler "Water Under the Bridge," bring some bounce to the proceedings.
Watch the video for "Hello":