In the summer of 1993, my best friend Scott and I were inseparable. We hung out practically every day; even when he started going out with a girl, I tactlessly hung around. What did I know about the “bro code?” I had just turned 14. His girlfriend perhaps took pity on me and started inviting one of her friends along to even out the gender count. I tentatively flirted as a maladroit teenager who had just matured past playing Dungeons and Dragons a summer before. I had only recently discovered girls and grunge music. We danced around intimacy until one night, we kissed. I was elated; I was ecstatic; I was on cloud nine.
Until the next day.
The next afternoon, the four of us met up, and the girl that had sent me notes and flirted with me was now standoffish and dismissive. I learned later that she thought I was a bad kisser and went back to her old boyfriend.1 I was hurt; I was crestfallen; I was heartbroken. That afternoon, I lay in my bed and stared at the ceiling. I played Pearl Jam’s “Porch” over and over, until I memorized each line and could recite it word for word. It was my daylong healing process.
It was my first breakup song.
I’d go on to have many more. A melodramatic teenager always does. Fast forward to the present: Adele’s 21 is released – 13 tracks of honest-to-goodness breakup music. There are songs about what could have been, rumors, being left alone, arguments, lies, and much more. Now, I am in no need of such an album: I’m married to a wonderful woman and many years removed from any significant heartbreak. If I did require such musical therapy, I would diligently learn every emotional in and out of the album; I would know which songs to turn up to 11 and which ones to skip.
This is not the case, so I am left holding a pop album by a talented singer. Instead of identifying with her plight, I think things like “‘Rolling In the Deep’ is a great track to kick off the album.” Adele has fantastic range and sings with so much soul. If there is anything I want to thank her for on 21, it is for that soulfulness and for relying on talent, not Auto-Tune. Adele’s smoky voice adds a level of weight to each song and masks her youth. “Don’t You Remember” and “Set Fire to the Rain” touch old nerves, trigger memories of relationships turned sour and would fit on anyone’s “Super Awesome Breakup Mix.”3
Halfway through listening to the album though, my thoughts start to drift elsewhere. I stopped counting the times the word “love” is mentioned. The subject matter of the record is unvarying, which is common both in pop albums and breakup albums. However, I allow my attention to waver because I know that Adele is a solid singer and I can let my guard down. I am not going to be hoodwinked into listening to a vapid bubble-gum song. There is safety in knowing the product is good.
All in all, 21 was a fun album to listen to and learn more about. If you like pop music with substance, then it is worth your time. Not being a pop person myself, this album will probably fall to the recesses of my collection that gets forgotten about for long stretches at a time. It’ll be unearthed when there’s a conversation when someone says “You know who’s good is that Adele. Boy, can she sing.”
I just wish I could send a copy to the teenage version of me.
1. Looking back, complaining that a 14 year old is a bad kisser is like complaining that a five year old can’t do calculus. You don’t have the knowledge yet. If you do, there is room for admiration but cause for concern.2. Auto-Tune: Making tone-deaf singers successful through digital manipulation since 1997.
3. The mix tape/CD is the biggest casualty of the digital music age besides the boom box. We will be holding a funeral outside of Ione Skye’s bedroom window.