Adele’s triumphant return a sentimental look back

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Adele has had nearly five years to savor the massive success of her last album but, on a release that could be even bigger, she is looking back wistfully on what once had been.

On Adele’s third album “25,” which came out Friday, the singer has little interest in gloating about fame or experimenting in style, instead returning to the emotional depths that have so resonated with her vast fan base.

Adele, her soaring but soulful voice possessing the same power, retraces the memories of her working-class childhood around London as she reflects from her new, uncomfortable perch.

“I feel like my life is flashing by / And all I can do is watch and cry,” she sings to a delicate, Spanish-tinged guitar on “Million Years Ago.”

“I miss the air, I miss my friends / I miss my mother / I miss it when life was a party to be thrown / But that was a million years ago.”

Adele’s last album, “21,” was led by the raw intimacy of the heartache song “Someone Like You.” But the man who broke Adele’s heart — whoever he was — is long gone, and Adele has since become a mother and found new love.

Yet romantic tumult clearly still has a hold over Adele. “All I Ask,” one of the most emotionally searing songs on the album, intimates at a future rather than a past breakup.

In a booming voice sure to leave many listeners in tears or at least with goose bumps, Adele sings over the piano, “All I ask is / If this is my last night with you / Hold me like I’m more than just a friend / Give me a memory I can use … ‘Cause what if I never love again.”

– Great hope for music industry –

Adele — who, despite the album’s title, is 27 — has described “25” as a look at her life “teetering on the edge of being an old adolescent and a fully fledged adult.”

Adele owes her success in no small part to her unpretentious, non-rock star image. She is not known to shake her body on stage or trash hotel rooms and is marking Friday’s release by singing at Joe’s Pub, a cozy club in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Yet Adele nonetheless is carrying the hopes of the music industry. “21” was the top-selling album in the United States for two consecutive years and, by a comfortable margin, the biggest release in Britain so far this century.

The music industry, which has been stagnant after stemming years of heavy losses, believes “25” could be the most successful album in more than a decade.

In the United States alone, Adele’s label has shipped 3.6 million physical copies to stores, according to industry journal Billboard.

The shipment numbers are the highest since “No Strings Attached” by boy band NSYNC in 2000, which was the year before Apple’s iTunes shook up the music business by mainstreaming digital sales.

In a sign of confidence in “25,” the album will not be available on streaming sites such as Spotify, making Adele one of the rare artists along with Taylor Swift to resist the fast-growing sector of on-demand online music.

“Hello,” the first song on “25,” already broke the record for the biggest US debut for a single since the advent of iTunes.

– Memories past and future –

Like Swift, Adele has stayed at a small independent label — in Adele’s case, London-based XL Recordings — that allowed her to keep strong editorial control.

Adele invariably had her pick of the world’s songwriters for such an eagerly awaited album.

“All I Ask” was co-written by another star, Bruno Mars. Canadian indie rocker Tobias Jesso Jr is credited on another of the more intense songs, “When We Were Young,” whose bittersweet harmonies and backup choir have echoes of 1980s pop hits.

“You look like a movie / You look like a song / My God, this reminds me / Of when we were young,” Adele sings to chords on a piano once owned by composer Philip Glass.

Yet however much Adele wants in “25” to return to the world of memories, she knows she cannot.

On “River Lea,” Adele sees the Greater London waterway as a metaphor for childhood insecurities, yet she struggles to break free.

“I can’t go back,” she sings, “but the reeds are growing out of my fingertips.”

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