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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
Go into the album cold, and you’ll have a hard time wondering what all the fuss is about. Opening track “Daydreamer” is a stark ballad – just Adele’s vocals and an acoustic guitar – that sounds like nothing so much as Norah Jones with a slight caffeine buzz. Things pick up a bit with the second track, the punchy spurned lover’s lament “Best for Last,” but as pleasant as these songs are, they don’t sound like the stuff that critical hyperbole is made of.
But the third track? Oh, man. It’s a stunner.
“Chasing Pavements” was an instant hit on the other side of the pond, and it’s easy to understand why – the first time you hear that thousand-acre chorus and that heartbreaking melody, with Adele’s honeyed rasp poured all over the whole thing, you’ll be ready to forget all about Amy Winehouse and just call Adele the new Dusty Springfield:
It’s a classic single, and Adele had better enjoy singing it, because people are going to want to hear it at every one of her live performances for the duration of her career. It’s also, unfortunately, one of the only tracks that saves 19 from total mediocrity. Vocally, she’s indisputably talented – she falls closer to Lisa Stansfield than Amy Winehouse, but that’s nothing to complain about – and her producers had the good sense to leave her voice alone, preserving the occasional human imperfection in an era of mind-numbingly bionic records. But the songs, for the most part, are disappointingly bland. None of it’s bad, but the drop from “Chasing Pavements” to cuts like “First Love” and the prophetically titled “My Same” is significant.
The blame for this is mainly Adele’s – she wrote seven of the album’s 11 originals by herself – but given that she’s barely 20, it’s hard not to imagine that subsequent releases will find her moving beyond 19’s mid-tempo sameness (and avoiding cover versions of songs as done-to-death as Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love”). This is assuming, of course, that all the hype doesn’t drown her career before it even really gets started – and we aren’t hearing about a “new Adele” two years from now. For now, just call 19 one to grow on, and try to keep from humming “Chasing Pavements” in your sleep.