EVEN IF Adele Adkins’s record-breaking 11 weeks at the top of the album chart ends on Sunday – and it looks like the Foo Fighters will finally halt the longest reign ever by a female artist – it’s an amazing achievement.
Clutching a Brits Critics’ Choice award before she’d even released her debut album, Adele had what seems like pre-ordained success, but it never would have happened without her extraordinary voice. Appropriately, her big, smoky pipes enter tonight before she does – singing from the wings, before she suddenly emerges, cackling “Awright Leeds.”
These first few seconds encapsulate her special connection with the public. A peculiar mixture of the sublime and the mundane, she combines the voice of Alison Moyet with the Queen Vic shtick of Barbara Windsor. One minute she’s adding an eerie tremor to the lyric “Of my world”, the next she’s explaining to the people pondering aloud just how one might ‘Set Fire to the Rain’, that the song was inspired “when mah lightah stopped workin'” in the wet.
When she asks for the lights to be turned up, she reveals just who are the people who have been buying those records – not edgy retro-soul connoisseurs, but greying bonces and high-street blondes. At times, her music makes appropriate compromises. “Cuddle the one you’re wiv”, she instructs; ‘Turning Tables”s beige-eyed soul seems designed for couples taking photos of themselves as they bellow along with every “Ooh-ooh”.
Like them, Adele seems blissfully unaware of cool, and it seems quite revealing that her intriguing choice of the Cure’s ‘Lovesong’ could easily have been replaced with INXS’s prosaic ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, “one of mah favourites”. You wonder whether she even realises that some of her songs (the haunting ‘One and Only’) are better and deeper than others (shoppers’ soundtrack ‘Chasing Pavements’), and why.
But when she gets it right, she flies. With her hushed delivery of ‘Make You Feel My Love’, she makes a Bob Dylan song her own. ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is a big, hands-clapping party shouter. And when the 22-year-old adds emotion beyond her years to ‘Someone Like You’ – a moving confession of romantic failings – she touches the crowd so much that they sing back at her, like a huge and slightly eerie choir. “I think that might be the best moment of my life,” she cries, momentarily overcome. But you suspect that, once her songs equal her voice, there will be many more such moments to follow.
© Dave Simpson, The Guardian, 15 April 2011