There’s a popular term in the DJ community called “cauliflower ear.” It’s when you wear big headphones – a.k.a. cans – so frequently that the cartilage in the upper part of your ear begins to knot.
Adele’s “25” is the third full-length album from the singer/songwriter in four years following the understated international success of “21.”
One cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, I trudged home after spending the night (and two months) with someone (I loved, but) who wasn’t ready to commit.
Emotions were burnt, feelings were felt.
It was time.
I took a hot shower, cooked a single person’s omelette, and turned the volume way, way, up.**
Surely, there’s a therapist somewhere who’d agree that there’s comfort to be found in confronting the moroseness of life. (perhaps I’m quoting Morrissey there, or perhaps that’s just Morrissey 101.)
“25” isn’t a story based on a singular theme. Instead, many themes are woven together across the course of the album that in theory, if you’ve been dating long enough can be connected to at least one person within each.
The instant classic is “Hello.” It’s hauntingly beautiful and resolute, seemingly arriving on a night train from the past. It’s a voice that seeks to reconnect, to resolve — to validate from within the weighty fog of what once was.
The bouncing and swaying of “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” cheekily bids adieu to a former partner with whom the timing didn’t work out. Adele delivers her words with integrity and self-awareness, steadying the message while somehow reassuring us that it’s okay to reluctantly move on from someone without fully understanding every reason why. Emotively, the listener can sense her personal phoenix rising.
I was too strong you were trembling
You couldn’t handle the hot heat rising (rising)
Baby I’m so rising
“I Miss You” speaks to a physical craving gone adrift. It’s about a different type of longing — the one for human touch and sensuality. The caress of their fingertips, the way they ran their hands through your hair or down the back of your naked spine.
At this point I was typing fast but my fingers froze after the first verse of “When We Were Young.”
Everybody loves the things you do
From the way you talk
To the way you move…
Everybody here is watching you
‘Cause you feel like home
You’re like a dream come true
This song, assuredly a standout, is about the first person who truly knocked you on your ass. It’s about the sheer perfection of first love — the way you remember how that person looked at you, the beauty of youth and the flawless connection made before we grew to form our crusty outer shells.
It begs the question — when you go home for the holidays, will you see him or her again? Will everything freeze around them the way it used to, and if the two of you speak, will the words sound the same? Or will everything be different because, well, we’re grown ups now?
The sheer recognition of it all whisked me away. The song ended, I blinked a couple of times, and the distance between fifteen years ago and today was nothing but a tiny drop in the bucket.
The album’s key themes are of youth, regret, forgiveness, self-acceptance, and the passage of time.
Adele finds a way to tie these back to the inquisitively beautiful and sometimes dark side of the mind — the one we catch glimpses of in moments of true clarity. As a lyricist this is where she excels. She finds a way to identify and voice our deeply-rooted insecurities, pushing them from the murky shadows into the light.
“All I Ask” is striking in eloquence, describing the last night spent with the love of one’s life. It ends with the question we commonly ask ourselves after doing everything we can to make a relationship work in order to avoid the inevitable — “what if I never love again?”
The finest pieces of art lend themselves to the human experience. Lyrically strong — and while not entirely gripping from a musical perspective — “25” is solid in conveying the themes it set out to support.
At occasional points the music seems decoupled from the voice almost in a timeshifting way. It’s as though the music was written for an older generation while the lyrics remain persistently modern.
I know I’m not the only one
Who regrets the things they’ve done
Sometimes I just feel it’s only me
Who never became who they thought they’d be
-Million Years Ago
Finally on “Love In The Dark,” Adele is the one initiating the break up. This is the song for the person whose heart you broke and ends with the line “I don’t think you can save me.”
Secretly, in your heart of hearts, you still wonder if that person could have done some saving after all.
“25” is a journey that is truly lovely and fully alive. It’s no surprise that, coming from Adele, the entire body of work finds a way to define and expose our most vulnerable truths in an exceptionally rare and elegant way.
This album heals and transcends. It also helps us to better comprehend.
After all, maybe that’s the artist’s intent. The desire to connect, and, after it’s all said and done quietly wonder: “Will anyone else understand?”
Yes Adele, we do.
“25” is out now. Buy the album from iTunes here.
*Was this partly due to the fact that the album wasn’t available on Spotify? Probably.
**After re-learning how to buy an album on iTunes (did you know you have to navigate to “Music” separately after?)
Beats Music focuses squarely on playlists, employing a sharp user interface and restricted color scheme that allows a vast amount of content to shine through.
Both brand and interface rely heavily on iOS7 aesthetic – flat design, subtle navigation cues and circular icon sets, disregarding the skeuomorphic approach we’ve come to know and understand through erstwhile brushed chrome and faux veneers à la Apple’s Newsstand.
Both the web and mobile experiences are vibrant, mostly due to the sheer amount of content the product has to offer. A grid-based layout contains large type in very small amounts, making it easy to scroll through an abundance of featured or suggested content. And there’s lots.
There are suggested playlists based around genre and/or decade (“Indie Music from 1993”.) There are novelty playlists based around band or topic (“Songs about Sex by Pulp”, “Cool Jazz for Studying”.) There are so-called rarities added in for good measure (“Radiohead B-sides”.) And then, there are tappable full-length albums interspersed throughout.
Impressively, the app’s feature set doesn’t rely on an activity feed or filter set. There’s so much curated content custom-tailored to the user’s preferences that the social aspect, or even a searchable one, is rendered moot.
Curiously, the commodification of actual full-length records is almost cleverly masked within the music sequencing landscape. Songs are presented within a diversified yet continuous audio experience ripe with discovery and reconnoitre.
That’s not to say that the idea of an album is lost altogether. Browsing Beats Music is not unlike exploring a record store, vibrant and full of data points. There are sections organized by genre, varying formats with subsequent cover sizes (vinyl, CD, cassette, box), staff picks to read, end caps for checking out new releases, and featured albums.
If browsing playlists isn’t your thing, you can cut to the chase by filling out a mad-libs type sentence that generates a playlist based on how you feel at that particular moment.
In the same spirit, the last screen delivers playlists exactly two taps away from getting what you want, without even being sure what it is you want in the first place. The user can choose from a list of activities – “sleep,” “wake up,” “ work out,” “study” – with a second tap that takes you to a list of playlists for selecting the mood that suits you best.
Content wise, the playlists themselves are good. They contain predictable picks and fun surprises, throwbacks and other well curated material, encouraging the user to trust the DJ and literally forgive any passable songs along the way. These are playlists for people who know what they want…but not really.
Unlike Spotify, Rdio, and its competitors, Beats Music does away with recommending albums or providing “charts” upon launch of the application. As well, it performs well without everyone in your circle shouting at you with their suggestions or listening history from the sidelines.
The major differences in Beats compared to a Spotify or Rdio is plentiful. First, Beats is less of a straight-up jukebox. A user can create playlists but they’re hidden in the background. The emphasis lies less in crafting playlists and more on hearing what you’re in the mood to listen to – without having to do any of the work involved.
The player itself is also subtle, sitting on the bottom of the screen. There is no big play button or call to action. It’s 2013 and apps have been around for 7 years now – we know what to do.
As your average skeptic in both the music and technology mindset, I do have a few concerns.
The first is that the library itself doesn’t dig deep enough. The inclusion of new bands may be due partly to pending licensing deals, if any, that are too fresh to go through the programming process.
What about exclusives, covers, remixes, and other goodies typically buried somewhere in a dark corner of the internet?
Conversely, it is a safe presumption to make that Beats will eventually feature advance record releases – historically, a natural way for driving users to online streaming music service providers.
Lastly, how often will content be refreshed? Will I need to scrap my preferences and start over to get more?
Only time will tell as this sharp, resonant product continues to evolve.