Adele shines on '25'
Adele (Columbia Records)
Can Adele even sing a B-level song?
Every track on her highly anticipated “25” sounds grand, from the piano tune “Remedy” to “Water Under the Bridge,” which is layered and full of echoes and sounds as if it was created just to be performed live.
And even when the singer collaborates with producers who, at times, sound formulaic and radio friendly, she brings them to new levels. Max Martin, who has created pop anthems for Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift, sounds unrecognizable on “Send My Love (to Your New Lover),” which has Adele on guitar. Bruno Mars and his producer cohorts, Philip Lawrence and Christopher Brody Brown, work more than magic on the R&B-flavored “All I Ask,” another piano tune that immediately grabs your attention.
And that's just it: “25” not only meets incredibly high expectations, it exceeds them.
Adele's growth is best heard on “Million Years Ago,” a touching, soft song that is majestic and unforgettable.
“Sometimes I just feel it's only me / who never became who they thought they'd be / I wish I could live a little more / look up to the sky, not just the floor,” she sings in her top-notch tone. The 11-track album is not a far stretch from “21,” the singer's best-selling 2011 album that helped her reach nearly impossible heights in contemporary music. “Love in the Dark,” written with Sia collaborator Samuel Dixon, is reminiscent of “Turning Tables” from “21”; she's looking back on “When We Were Young,” which sounds like a pop classic; and the drum-filled “I Miss You” is eerie and moody — in a good way.
Even the top-selling single, “Hello,” continues to sound better and better after each listen.
“Hello, can you hear me?” she sings.
Yes, Adele. And we're so glad we do.
CeeLo Green (Atlantic)
With “Heart Blanche,” CeeLo Green has made the smartest, sharpest album of his career. It needed to be: He has a comeback to make.
Green stands large in the history of Atlanta's hip-hop scene, soulful Southern rap and showy, adventurous R&B. He was popular as a playful coach on NBC's “The Voice.” His stature suffered after he was hit with a felony charge for furnishing ecstasy to a woman without consent, then unwisely tweeted his personal, tangled view on rape, Twitter activity that lost him his reality TV show. All this made the big-voiced singer seem small. But Green did his time and is hoping audiences can look past it all. From the jubilant sparkle of “Heart Blanche,” it sounds as though he can.
“There ain't no problem music can't solve,” Green sings in “Working Class Heroes (Work),” one of several hook-laden tracks (e.g. “Est. 1980”) paying homage, subtly and not so subtly, to the synth-driven New Wave and hair metal of his youth. Other touchstones of Green's past are here, too, the smoothest being the jazzy Bob James samples that give “Sign of the Times” its rosy, ambient bed. Some platitudes (“We've got to laugh away the pain”) threaten to oversweeten CeeLo's comeback, but velvet melodies and vocals save tracks such as the soft-disco “Better Late Than Never” and the summer-breezy soul jam “Race Against Time.”
Eric Church (EMI Nashville)
His last album was “The Outsiders.” Now comes the surprise release of “Mr. Misunderstood.” Eric Church really does like to cast himself as the eternal misfit, even as he has become one of country's biggest stars.
It's a tough balancing act, much like the one he attempts here by ranging from the bombastic outlaw saga “Knives of New Orleans” (“I did what I did, I have no regrets”) to the almost squishy sentimentality of the lessons-of-fatherhood tale “Three Year Old.” But for the most part, Church continues to pull it off.
Like Chris Stapleton's, Church's music has an unvarnished feel that makes it sound like nothing else coming out of Music Row and that enhances the power of the best songs here. They include the tempo-shifting title track — who else would give a shout-out to the vastly underappreciated Ray Wylie Hubbard? — and a duet with Susan Tedeschi on the after-hours ballad “Mixed Drinks About Feelings.” Other standout numbers speak to the power of music and how it inspires Church and fires his audacious ambition — “Mistress Named Music” and “Record Year,” a title that turns out to be a clever pun.