Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Take It All / Adele

Well, in case you haven't heard, Nick Lowe is releasing a new album this fall.  It's called The Old Magic and from what I've seen of the track list, it's chock-full of new songs, several of which we heard at various Nick shows over the past few months. Here's a link to the Yep Roc Records press release.

I should be thrilled, right?  So why am I so ambivalent?

In 2005, when I first became a Nick Lowe fan -- okay, a rabid Nick Lowe fan -- the chap hadn't put out a record in several years; some people even referred to him as "semi-retired."  But since then, Nick has released not only the new album At My Age (2006) but long overdue reissues of Jesus of Cool (2008) and Labour Of Lust (2011), a "best of" collection (Quiet Please, 2009),  and somewhere else in there a boxset of his 1994, 1998, and 2001 albums (The Brentford Trilogy).  To date, I have seen him live over a dozen times, and that's with hardly any major traveling. (Really., I was going out to Chicago anyway...).

[So what does this have to do with Adele? Wait for it.....]

So here's my question:  Did I discover Nick Lowe because he was already heading for a late-career revival -- or did I cause it?  Because, you know, I have blogged about this guy A LOT, usually in raving, swooning tones. I still feel personally invested in Nick and his career, but -- and this is an odd feeling for me -- being a Nick Lowe fan doesn't make me special anymore.  Being a Kinks fan, or a Marshall Crenshaw fan, or a Graham Parker fan, or a Greg Trooper fan, or a Robyn Hitchcock fan, will always feel like joining an elite club of music lovers. (The Paul McCartney thing, I'll grant you, is an aberration...). I like that inner circle feeling.

Okay, so clearly I've got to go sort all this out.  In the meantime -- since I've clearly got WAY TOO MUCH invested in being a "special" fan -- let me send myself to the woodshed, and prove that I can also love a #1 hit...

Liking Adele is a wonderfully uncomplicated thing for me.  C'mon, I'm a Dusty Springfield fan; how could I not love the power and the passion Adele pours into her voice?   Three years ago, when her first album 19 came out, all the buzz was about Amy Winehouse, with the public fascinated by her trainwreck behavior.  (Really, people, you should be ashamed.) But here was Adele on the scene at the same time, and I couldn't understand why she wasn't being touted as the real deal in comparison to Amy Winehouse. I'm delighted that she's now been vindicated with a smash hit album (where is Amy Winehouse these days?), and even after being temporarily nudged aside by the heavily subsidized Lady Gaga juggernaut, Adele has quietly returned to the top of the charts.  It's refreshing to see that quality sometimes does win out. (Okay, so maybe that explains Nick Lowe too. Maybe.)

If you listen to the radio at all, you have no doubt heard Adele's magnificent "Rolling in the Deep." It's probably been overplayed, in fact, and if you're like me, an overplayed hit single is anathema.  So just let me introduce you to this other track from her album, so you can see that the girl has legs.  It's a solid, solid album, track after track.  Just because it's a hit doesn't mean it's not good.

I realize that the Dusty comparison isn't just because of Adele's range, or the way she plays with her voice, or the back-up vocals -- it's also her no-holds-barred approach to love.  "Take it all, take all my love" -- isn't that the sentiment behind all of Dusty's oeuvre?  "You're giving up so easily / I thought you loved me more than this" -- it's easy to characterize her as the submissive female, but the fact is, she humbles her male lover with her unconditional passion.  Whether or not he deserves it is totally beside the point.  Dusty's lovers never deserved it; we only listened to her because she herself was so operatic in her passion.  The word is used too loosely these days, but Dusty was a diva -- and I believe that Adele inherits that mantle.  I am thrilled to hear she's got a #1 hit.  If life were only that fair always!


Anonymous said...

Winehouse doesn't have a new album out, don't act like she's finished. When she does release the new record later this year it will sell BIG.

Uncle E said...

I do think Mr Lowe owes you a debt of gratitude, missus. Although Philbert got me hooked on the early stuff, t'was YOU, via your in-depth analysis of the later stuff, made me see the benefits of his crooner phase. Any word on the style/vibe of the new album? The title seems to hint at perhaps a return to former power pop glories, which will either be wonderful, or horrible. Either way, I'm there.

Holly A Hughes said...

I believe it is more in the country crooner line, from the few tunes he has trotted out at shows. Also, he's got a Tom T. Hall cover, and a cover of Elvis C.'s "Poisoned Rose," from his most country-ish album King of America. The album cover has a very retro look, too. Not even a photo of Nick! (I have my own dark and cynical theory about what Nick's new wife is trying to accomplish when she designs his album covers.)

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, and Anonymous, good thing for Amy Winehouse. (Has she cleaned up her personal life at all?) She has undeniable talent, and I'm sure that new album'll get tons of press. Still, nice for Adele to get hers out first and have her moment in the sun.

NickS said...

First off, congratulations on the kitchen and book. Both are major projects (have you seen this New Yorker cartoon. It started to seem very funny after my own experience with home improvement).

Secondly, I have to say that I don't get the appeal of Adele and every time I see her praised by somebody who's taste I respect I am slightly confused as to whether I'm just missing something, or if she's just getting so much attention because she's filling a pop music niche which has been neglected.

I admit that my preference, in general, is for subtlety, touch, and intimacy in both performance and songwriting, so I'm not generally a fan of people who's strengths center around raw vocal and emotional power.

But, still, I just don't hear anything in Adele's work to date which would suggest that it has any lasting heft. She's good, she's competent, she probably deserves her moment in the pop music sun, but in ten years do you think it will hold up as a pop classic, or will it just be a reminder that, oh yes, Adele was pretty good in the early 2010's?

I don't pretend to know the answer, as I said it just doesn't grab me, but it feels odd to me when I see people, who have a strong sense of pop music history praising her for something other than just standing out amongst her immediate contemporaries.

One final note, this made me remember that when Back To Black came out everybody praised it as a triumph of musical craft and substance over style. In 2007 people were saying things about Amy Winehouse not that far from, "It's refreshing to see that quality sometimes does win out."

I think Back To Black is a substantive album, but I also don't think it transcends its moment.

Matt Smith said...

Thanks for the update on Nick Lowe's new album. I've been a big fan for years, and recently been enjoying "Quiet Please..."

For some reason, this post reminds of a new singer I chanced upon a few months back. Before his set, Ron Sexsmith's sound guy was playing a cd by a female singer I'd never heard before. Asking him afterwards, I found out her name is Rumer. There's quite a bit of stuff on YouTube - very mellow, but quite good.

Anyway, cheers for all the good posts. I just wish Marshall Crenshaw would make it out to the west coast more often!

Holly A Hughes said...

More from NickS...This thread inspired me to listen to Back To Black again, and I have to say that it's really, really good. I think I just didn't pay it enough attention when I listened to it before. The first couple of songs convinced me that it was working with broad strokes, but this time I appreciate that many of the songs have a very precise sense of emotional detail, and reward closer listening. I'm going to listen to it more but I have to say, since you happened to mention Amy Winehouse in the post, that in my opinion Back To Black is definitely quality music and deserved its success.

Holly A Hughes said...

I saw in the news that Amy Winehouse has had to cancel a bunch of concerts in Europe -- it certainly is sad that her substance abuse issues get in the way of her talent. I'm not denying that Back to Black showed real promise, and her new album may well be worthwhile. Still, you can't deny that her antics got her a lot of extra press -- and for someone like Adele, who has a similar sound, that made it even harder to get media buzz. Pop culture fame has many layers...

NickS said...

I know that you weren't comparing the music of Adele and Amy Winehouse, you were comparing Adele's album to Winehouse's notoriety for her personal life.

So Back To Black is just a tangent, but I was happy to like it better on a fresh listening.

Listening to "Take It All" again I have to say it's pretty good. Part of what frustrated me about Nineteen was the production didn't do her any favors. The piano was too far forward, and kind of harsh sounding. Rather than feeling like there was piano accompaniment, it sounded like two separate tracks that were both being put in the foreground of the mix.

This is much better in that regard, and I think that she is really good at maintaining intensity during the slower sections of the song. I can also give you an example of what I don't like about her. Listen to 1:24-1:43, it's just painful. Her voice doesn't sound good there. More importantly, it doesn't sound like she can figure out how to hit that tone. It isn't that she crescendo and doesn't quite hit it, and then backs off. There are three or four moments in that 15 seconds when she has the same harsh sound.

It may seem like nitpicking to pick 15 seconds and complain about it that much but I just feel like when I've listened to her music it consistently fails to sound good.

But, I say again, the slower parts of the song are sung very well, and are better than what I remember of Nineteen

NickS said...

One explanatory note may be helpful here. My reference point for Adele is 19 because I got the album as a gift so I gave it several listens to see if I could get into it.

Reading reviews of 21 didn't make it sound like a significant change, so I didn't pay it much attention.

So I'm probably being overly critical; it does sound like her singing has improved, but I'm still not inclined to think that I would like 21.

Holly A Hughes said...

Just wanted to update this post with the sad news about Amy Winehouse's sudden death, apparently of a drug overdose -- at age 27, which as we all know was the same age at which Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Brian Jones died. I suspect that the critical reception of her new album will be inextricably mixed up with our stunned reaction to her untimely death. More of the story may come out in the days to come, but there's no question this is sobering news.