Adele’s Pop Report Card: We Grade Her 3 Albums

Jonathan Riggs | November 26, 2015 8:30 am
Adele's '25' Reviewed
Was the singer's anticipated third album worth the wait? We decided to find out.

When you think about popstresses who whip the stans into a frenzy, you think of the Lovatics threatening to behead the Selenators, or the Beyhive snatching the dumb blonde wigs of the world’s last pocket of HokuHeads. (That’s a thing, right?)

And yet here we are, with Adele—every mom’s favorite singer, an Oscar-winning class act—absolutely slaying the children left and right. (When Idolator’s own Carl Williott hesitated to agree that new single “Hello” was “AS MAJESTIC AS A CATHEDRAL MADE FROM THE BONES OF PAST LOVERS,” some flop shrieked for him to be whipped in the streets.)

How did a Miley Cyrus world fall irrecoverably in love with a classic, classy talent? Let’s look back at the one-of-a-kind “age trilogy” arc of Adele, and grade her albums accordingly. Flip through the singer’s Pop Report Card below!

Adele 19

19 (2008)

Obviously destined for greatness even at such a young age, Adele sounds like a teenager here: capable of brilliance but unapologetically unsteady. While some cuts are chiseled out of crystal, like the anthemic “Chasing Pavements” and the delicate music box regret of “First Love,” she’s still rough around the edges on 19.

It’s kind of thrilling now to hear Adele reaching for notes — and missing at times — while making surprising decisions with her vocals on cuts like “Crazy for You,” “Melt My Heart To Stone” and “Tired.” Plus, her influences are fascinatingly eclectic. (For example, “My Same” echoes The Cure’s “Lovecats” while “Daydreamer” sounds like Kate Nash’s “Birds.”) Everything, especially the slight raspiness in her voice, emphasizes the humanity in this most superhuman of singers and it’s that vulnerability that made people on both sides of the pond sit up and ask, “Who was THAT?!” when they first heard Adele Laurie Blue Adkins. Grade: B+

Adele 21

21 (2011)

For better or for worse, the monstrously successfully 21 cemented who Adele was and what her sound would be in the eyes and ears of millions. Gone is the hesitation and uncertainty of 19: Adele kicks of this set with a one-two punch (“Rolling In The Deep” and “Rumour Has it”) that pretty much declares her the new Aretha.

As we all know, however, Adele is at her mightiest when she’s in misery, and she adds new luster to her Queen Of Pain crown with “Turning Tables,” “Don’t You Remember,” “Set Fire to the Rain” and the ultimate tearjerker sad jam, “Someone Like You.” There are still a few surprises on here, including the blue-eyed soul of “I’ll Be Waiting” and her intriguing Spanish-guitar-supper-club reading of The Cure’s “Lovesong,” but it’s obvious that this is the arrival statement of a legend, the aural equivalent of Venus stepping off her clamshell to claim immortality. Grade: A+

Adele 25

25 (2015)

Maturity is a good look for Adele, who kicks off a new era by showcasing her talent-for-the-ages while stretching ever so slightly to sound more of-the-minute. It’s no surprise that “Hello” debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100, sold a zillion copies and launched way too many Vines, but the real story here is “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” Inspired by Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” (!) and teaming with Max Martin (!!), Adele delivers this most unexpected song with bite, but not too aggressively for mom’s minivan playlist.

The heart of 25 is the Elton John “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters”-y “When We Were Young,” which seems to augur a stronger singer/songwriter direction for Adele, focusing on beautiful lyrics more so than vocal bombast. Throw in the pounding “I Miss You” and “River Lea,” the lightfooted mother-of-the-groom future staple “Sweetest Devotion,” plus a string of classy ballads and it’s hard to imagine a better career move for Adele or valentine to her fans. Grade: A

Do you agree with our Pop Report Card grading of Adele’s three studio albums? Let us know below!