Adele, “25” (Columbia/XL)
“Hello, it’s me,” pop superstar Adele sings on the opening number on her third album. “I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.” She’s mining familiar territory here — unrequited love — but, at 27, she’s now a mother who is happily involved with her son’s father, and she sounds comfortable in her own skin. Where once she was angry, now she has seen the light and sings with a certain calmness. She was vulnerable but now she’s resilient. She’s looking back on who she — and he — used to be, as she sings on “Hello,” a spare ballad that eventually explodes.
What makes “25” such a mature, mostly satisfying work is Adele’s singing. Her voice is unrelentingly powerful — big without vocal gymnastics, emotional without gimmicky affectations, reassuring without false bravado.
Sonically, “25” is a leap from its Grammy-dominating predecessor, “21,” which was rawer. Here Adele balances minimalist elements with polished production. She’s working with some of the hottest hitmaking producers in the pop world — Max Martin, Danger Mouse, Bruno Mars, Greg Kurstin, Ryan Tedder, Paul Epworth — but she still sounds more classic than trendy.
To be sure, “Send My Love,” produced by Martin, has a burbling reggae undercurrent that might recall his recent work with Taylor Swift. The Epworth-helmed “I Miss You” booms with atmospheric drums like a hip Imagine Dragons track.
But the Kurstin tune, “Million Years Ago,” sounds like it could have jumped out of the chanson songbook of Charles Aznavour, “Sweetest Devotion” is an Epworth-crafted pop anthem that evokes heyday Fleetwood Mac, and the Mars piano ballad “All I Ask” is pure Bacharachian pop, as Adele doesn’t ask for forgiveness but rather one last night together to “give me a memory I can use.” It’s a sentiment that fits the message of “25,” which is another Adele triumph that will give us many memories.
JON BREAM, Star Tribune
One Direction, “Made in the A.M.” (Columbia)
This does not sound like the end of One Direction. Oh sure, there was plenty of concern earlier this year when Zayn Malik abruptly left the group and the remaining quartet announced they wouldn’t tour to support this album and then they’d take a hiatus.
This sleek, rock-influenced pop album ambitiously tries to reconstruct musical history in One Direction’s image. “Drag Me Down” effectively co-opts the new wave energy of the Police. The yearning “Infinity” combines chiming U2 guitars with a 21-piece string section. “Olivia” is crafted to sound like the Beatles at their bounciest, while “What a Feeling” conjures up laid-back Fleetwood Mac, and “Walking in the Wind” is a direct descendant of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”
One Direction is even more effective when they mine styles closer to home. On “Temporary Fix,” they build a power-pop cousin to “Since U Been Gone” with stadium-filling specifications. The Brit boys also show how they can bridge the gap between old and new in songs like “End of the Day.” There is no sign of panic on this impeccably crafted album, no evidence of a group coming apart at the seams.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday