Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Grownup Christmas List

in the spirit of this song, here are some things I'd like for Christmas that nobody can buy me:

- Snow
(I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.)

- for my dad to be home for Christmas

- Donald Trump not run for U.S. President

- UK airstrikes on Syria cease
("No more lives torn apart and wars would never start")

- all my students to be safe over the holidays

- a change
(it's been a tough four months, professionally and personally and I just need a change.)

Happy Holidays, hope you get what you're wishing for.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Adele 25 Review

Adele's third studio album, 25, was released on November 20th, with limited promotion leading up to the release. On October 21, Adele tweeted,

Two days later, she released the first single from the album, and with the opening lyric, "Hello, it's me" the world cheered! (Or I did, at least.) The single is about grieving lost love and letting go and moving on, which ties into the themes of the album - growing up, letting go, moving on, forgiving others, and forgiving yourself.

Leading up to the release of the album there was some criticism of Adele, with some industry people wanting her to be more than she is, and take more risks. Notably, Blur and Gorillaz front man Damon Alburn called her insecure and called her music "middle-of-the-road." I agree that Adele is a talented enough singer that she can do whatever she wants, but I don't agree with the attitude of “you can do whatever you want, so you should do what I want you to do.”

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Adele opened the interview by asking, "What's been going on in the world of music? I feel out of the loop!" so it's possible that she returned from her hiatus, felt like she was out of touch with the industry and had to listen to all these producers who wanted her to play it safe, but in the same interview she says of her son, "he's the only person that tells me no. He completely rules me. He's the boss of me, and it's so funny for other people to watch, because I'm the boss of everything in my work life," so I trust that 25 is exactly the record Adele wanted to put out at this moment in her life. And it's a really great record!

The two low points for me are "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)", and "Water Under the Bridge." These two tracks are, in my opinion, over-produced, too commercial, radio-poppy, and just don't suit the tone of the rest of the record which is very personal and artistic. Unsurprising, considering the co-writer of "Send My Love", Max Martin, has written songs for Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, N Sync, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, and many other 'radio stars.' "Send My Love" is about the man Adele was with between the 21 ex, and her current partner and father of her child. It doesn't seem to fit on the album and to me it is just a mediocre track.
"Water Under the Bridge," is catchy, and at least fits in with the theme of the album. (Adele says, "It was sort of about a relationship suddenly getting really, really serious, and then getting a bit frightened by it, and then realizing that 'I think this must be right.") but the instrumentals on the chorus drown out her vocals, which I think should be the heart of all her songs, and again, I think the track is just not as good as some of the others on the album.

Two of my favorite songs on the album are the back to back "When We Were Young" and "Remedy." "When We Were Young" is a nostalgic ballad about running into somebody you used to know, and recalling who you used to be when you knew that person, and how things have changed. Adele sings, "We were sad of getting old, it made us restless. I'm so mad I'm getting old, it makes me reckless. It was just like a movie, it was just like a song when we were young.” The lyrics are so cheesy but Adele really kills it vocally on this track and it is such a beautiful, epic song. It sounds like a movie theme song to me, just classic.
"Remedy" is a lullaby to her child, but also can be interpreted as a beautiful love song. This is more what I want the entire album to be, just her raw vocals and stripped down instrumentals backing her. Again the lyrics on this one are cheesy, but they can't be too cheesy, because the emotions are genuine and the sentiment is heartfelt and personal. 

The two best songs on the album are "River Lea" and "Million Years Ago." These two are the most personal tracks on the album. "River Lea" opens with Adele singing, "Everybody tells me it's 'bout time that I moved on, and I need to learn to lighten up and learn how to be young." She goes on to sing about her childhood growing up by the river, and how it formed her into the person she is. Danger Mouse co-wrote and produced this track, and it feels like the most innovative on the record, with the driving beat, the more exposed verses and the epic chorus. 

"Million Years Ago" is one of those songs where, if I heard it out in public, never having heard of Adele, I would tell everyone in the room to shut up and demand to know who this sexy blues lady was, because she would be my new favorite.
In the aforementioned Rolling Stone interview, Adele said, "I've had a lot of regrets since I turned 25. There's a lot of things I don't think I'll ever get 'round to doing, not because I'm famous, but just because I just don't think I'll ever have the time. Like being a journalist, or like being a teacher. And I'm never going to be on my own again...I'm a mom and I'm in a very serious relationship, so it's never going to be just me again. I don't regret any of it. Like, those aren't the things that I regret. But I feel like I didn't have very long to myself. I was my mom's kid, and now I'm a mom...I had, like, a five-year window of just being me."
"Million Years Ago" is about missing the carefree days of youth, and for Adele, most likely about missing the carefree days before she got famous.
In the second verse she croons, "When I walk around all of the streets where I grew up and found my feet, they can't look me in the eye. It's like they're scared of me"
In the chorus, she mourns, "I feel like my life is flashing by and all I can do is watch and cry. I miss the air, I miss my friends, I miss my mother; I miss it when life was a party to be thrown, but that was a million years ago."
The beautiful lyrics are only part of what makes this song great. It is just Adele and an acoustic guitar. She is completely exposed, and shows off her vocal range, nailing high notes and holding low notes long enough to induce chills. The simplicity of the arrangement emphasizes the message of the song and the album. I want more songs like this. I want a whole album of songs like this. But I'm not Damon Alburn, and I'm not going to tell Adele what to do with her life. 

The final track on the album (unless you got the Target Deluxe version) is "Sweetest Devotion," which some reviewers (youtube's Anthony Fantano) have said does not fit with the tone of the album, because it is such a happy, celebratory song, but that is because it isn't about an ex, or Adele's fear of committing to a relationship, or the struggles of growing up. It's about her son, Angelo. His voice can be heard at the beginning and end of the song. Adele said that after the crazy success of 21, "I was starting to get a bit afraid of everything. When I had him, it made everything all right, and I trusted everything because the world had given me this miracle." She credits the existence of 25 to Angelo, and how becoming a mother changed her as a person. So to me, it is the perfect album-closer. And it's just epic.

Adele said of this album, "I'm making up with myself. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did." 
25 is a quarter-life crisis beautifully resolved, it's a turning point in a life and in a career, it's moving on, and forgiving, and letting go.
And I feel about it the same way I feel about the Harry Potter movies. It's not my favorite, it has some flaws, but I can't 
not love it. It's a beautiful record and I can't wait for the next one.