Adele: 19 (XL recordings)

THE ITUNES/MYSPACE revolution has speeded up the pop process to such an extent that a new act barely has time to draw breath before being acclaimed in ever-growing hyperbole and seeing their debut album go straight to No 1.

But, though superficially impressive, this is often disastrous for the artist’s long-term prospects, destroying the vital growth period during which musicians develop their performing acumen, musical tastes, and the kind of world-view obtained only through years of hard knocks. Instead, artists are now catapulted up the pop mountainside and expected to grab hold of whatever outcrop is within their grasp, and grimly hold on for dear life. To then criticise and condemn an Amy Winehouse when she struggles seems churlish at best, and often downright vindictive.

Adele Adkins, another pupil from the Brit performing arts school attended by Amy and Kate Nash, is the latest recipient of this hype. Am I the only one to find something slightly sinister in the way we’re being brow-beaten into unanimous acclaim for her modest talents, with Adele acclaimed in some BBC poll of industry insiders as “the sound of 2008” and virtually guaranteed a Brit Award before anyone’s actually heard her album? Let’s see: stage school background, voting for your favourite, straight in at No 1 – is this anything more than the extension of Cowell-ist principles from mainstream pop to those areas of music that used to be considered more personal and distinctive?

And in Adele’s case, it’s pretty much the same sort of shallow-but-showy vocal facility favoured by TV talent contests that’s being praised, her delivery sounding like a convenient blending of Winehouse’s R&B chops with Nash’s mockney mannerisms: interesting in small doses (notably ‘Hometown Glory’), it becomes irritating over a full album. In sparse settings, as here, she struggles to sustain one’s interest – a situation not helped by a narrow, youthful focus on romantic themes. There’s a limit to the appeal of teenage crushes, brush-offs and frustrations, and Adele sails blithely beyond it.

If she were a relative unknown, this wouldn’t matter much: she would develop a broader outlook at her own pace. But thrust so prematurely into the limelight, Adele has to effect those changes in full view of the public, with each step reported in the mandatory weblog diary. Is it any wonder that mystique is a vanishing commodity in pop, or that the cycle of acclaim and contempt is now so rapid? 19 is a passably decent debut, but it could have been so much more by being so much less anticipated.

Download this: ‘Hometown Glory’, ‘First Love’, ‘Tired’

© Andy GillThe Independent, 25 January 2008

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