As is de rigueur these days, Adele’s album leaked online before its scheduled release. (It’s due to drop on Friday, and you can preorder it here on iTunes, or here at Amazon, or wherever you get your music.) As a duty to our readers, here are our reactions, live, and lightly edited.
TRACK 1: “HELLO”
Ben Dreyfuss: Here we go.
James West: “Hello, it’s me.”
BD: I love this song.
JW: I think I may have listened to this about 12-dozen times since its release a few weeks ago.
BD: I could hear it from your office. Twelve-dozen is a low estimate.
JW: Ben, there’s such a difference, between us, and a million miles.
BD: HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE.
JW: It’s massive, isn’t it?
BD: “Massive” is the right word. I feel like I can hear her voice booming at Hollywood Bowl. Should we talk about the video?
JW: Yes. I wasn’t a fan. Until the 12th-dozenth time.
BD: Ah, well that maybe explains why I am not yet a fan of it. I’ve seen it three to five times and it is silly and way worse than the song.
JW: Agreed. But, there’s a diva-in-the-wilderness-suffering quality when she, like, eats all the words, and is yelling into the wind, with all those leaves blowing around. I liked that bit.
BD: Just hoovering up all the words.
JW: On that lake. An unearthly creature on a lake BELTING IT OUT.
BD: This hook really is just phenomenal. Did you see the story that a bunch of ex-boyfriends were sending the song to their exes to get them to call them back? The internet in 2015 exists to survey things like that.
TRACK 2: “SEND MY LOVE (TO YOUR NEW LOVER)”
BD: Just the guitar: Uh-oh.
JW: That never bodes well, does it?
BD: I actually don’t hate this so far. It doesn’t have the slow pace of most just-the-guitar songs.
JW: A quickened heartbeat. Into another pretty clever hook partnered with those hand claps is cute. She’s pretty playful here.
BD: This hook sounds like something that like people could dance to.
JW: Here’s the aging theme: “We both know we ain’t kids no more.” Adele: growing, womaning, motherhood.
BD: “Baby I’m still rising” is a nice line. Every adult would like to believe that.
JW: She’s great at that. Big, universal themes are her thing. Boiled down to a pure broth. Who hasn’t thought, “Send my love to your new lover?”
BD: Exactly. This song is growing on me.
JW: “If you’re ready, I’m ready.” Mutual assurance is the key to moving on.
BD: “If we ain’t kids no more.” So true, babe.
JW: I like the image of her taking a stiff drink before this. Slamming it down. Getting this song done.
BD: Finishing a stiff drink and then, fuck it, all I need is the guitar and my voice.
TRACK 3: “I MISS YOU”
BD: “Hello” piano.
JW: Some of that howling in the wilderness in the background again. Then: boom-boom-bom, tisch. Boom-boom-bom, tisch. Driving drum beat. Heartbeat.
BD: New York late at night. The soundtrack to Eyes Wide Shut.
JW: “Songs to listen to in the cab ride back to Brooklyn.”
BD: This is even before the cab ride. This is straight-out while you’re still in Lower Manhattan at 3 a.m.
JW: Jacket wrapped around your body. Collar popped. Cars—and tears—streaming.
BD: A bit of snow blows by and you pass that one bar or restaurant or whatever and all the memories flood back.
JW: Flurries of feelings. Uber is surge-pricing. Feelings are surge…pricing.
BD: You just need to keep going, you need to keep your head up, people are watching, you don’t know them, but they’re people and they’re watching. They’re all watching…you.
JW: You’re proud of your achievements. “Why isn’t he?”
BD: “Fuck him,” you tell yourself.
JW: “Where’s the fucking Uber?”
BD: “God, maybe I should just walk across the fucking bridge.”
JW: Is she going to make it home okay?
BD: Not if she tries to cross the bridge on foot. I really liked that one.
TRACK 4: “WHEN WE WERE YOUNG”
BD: I hate track titles like “When We Were Young.” A bit on the nose, I think.
JW: “Hello” piano again.
BD: “Everybody is watching you.” It’s the sort of underlying theme of a lot of this.
JW: She got so famous so early. It must be so hard to do this album. Imagine the pressure.
BD: “You look like a movie.” This is a trope in so many pop songs, but I think that’s because, if we’re all being honest, it’s how we all think about so many moments and relationships. Like it’s a movie or a pop song. It was never really just like a movie, babe.
JW: “You moved overseas, that’s what you said when you left me.” Yikes. This song feels more rote. Classic torch ballad. It’s pretty! And she can sing anything, right? A bit adult-contemporary, this one.
BD: Right. I feel like this is just a great singer singing a boring song anyone has heard 50 times.
JW: Yeah, even she sounds a bit bored when she’s hoovering up those notes. “Of course I can sing this.” So yeah. Not great. But this moment is:
TRACK 5: “REMEDY”
JW: You know, the lyrics in other pop songs are always so shit, it’s relieving these feel actually “written” rather than bot-generated.
BD: That’s a good point. In fact, I’ve found myself sort of judging these lyrics harder than I ever would most pop songs, which is unfair, but sort of the consequence of my absurdly high expectations, which she has earned.
JW: Right. It’s like she’s already a Grande Dame already, at 25. [Editor’s note: Here’s the thing: She’s actually 27 now, has been since May.]
BD: Jesus, I know it’s the name of the album but i keep forgetting she’s only 25. Like, Jesus Christ.
BD: That makes me feel ridiculous.
JW: What were you doing at 25, Benny?
BD: At 25, I had accepted that I’d never be a movie star and was about to accept that I was going to have to become a journalist. LOL. It was a transitional year for me. And you, my Australian friend?
JW: Me too. Transitional. Loads of self-searching travel. Great highs. Then a job I loved, but not knowing if I really wanted to commit.
BD: It’s a pretty good year for that sort of thing. You’re setting aside the artifacts of your adolescents and entering your first life crisis, the quarter-life crisis.
JW: That was a pretty song that got us talking about life.
TRACK 6: “WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE”
BD: It sounds a bit like Florence + the Machine
JW: It’s funny—even in comparison to Florence’s monster voice, Adele just laps this stuff up and makes it sound easy.
BD: Totally. I love Florence, but Adele’s voice is really just on another level. She has so much control over it.
JW: This song is more musical theater-y.
BD: Listen to the little things she does with her voice in this. They’re just small vocal aerobics but when you add them up they’re really just remarkable.
JW: This is the Sia Furler school of songwriting: Pick one metaphor, and make it redemptive.
BD: Hit it, hit it, and stay on message.
JW: She’d be great in politics. STAY ON NOTE.
TRACK 7: “RIVER LEA”
JW: I don’t like this intro. A bit vacuous.
BD: It reminds me a bit of Lana del Rey. This metaphor isn’t working for me that much. Though this chorus is better.
JW: Okay, right. It’s a spiritual.
BD: God, she really does have a way of turning them around on a dime.
JW: She’s so bored with verses. Why waste time when you’ve got a voice like that? Just go right in, babe. Give us everything.
BD: This song is one of my least favorite so far. There is something about it that I just don’t buy? More than the rest of them she seems to just be performing some lyrics.
JW: Yes. Sounds like she’s a “singer.” Even in this moment I can admire it for its pure one-size-fits all thing. Like watching a rom-com on a plane: universal, and appropriate for plane watching.
BD: Sure, but I sort of see her reading some silly lyrics from a Moleskin that she jotted down on a bunch of Adderall and they’re sort of meaningless. But they looked good.
JW: On a music stand.
TRACK 8: “LOVE IN THE DARK”
JW: Again, a kind of lazy moment at the beginning.
BD: “Take your eyes off me.” We’re back on the whole “They’re watching us” motif.
JW: Where are we in the story of this album? I’ve lost it a bit now.
BD: This album isn’t trying to be a complete story, right? Maybe just an act of a larger story? A portrait of a moment?
JW: The moment when everyone was scheduled to come to the studio that day?
BD: Hahaha. I think the main themes so far have been how struggling with the recent past and realizing that you have quite a way to go in the future is daunting when you’re alone and everyone is watching you. (Whether they really are watching you or whether you only think they’re watching you is sort of immaterial.) And being aware of the sort of sophistry of egotism and the silliness of thinking your lost loves from your 20s are unique or meaningful. “I know my pain is not unique, but it is still pain.”
JW: I think you nailed it. “I’ve learned a lot. But you know? I’m talented, I’ll get through this, and sometimes the lessons you learn are just that— steppingstones.”
BD: Is there something to be said that we’ve gone from the beginning of the album to “looking back on lost relationship” to now “getting over it and breaking up with a new relationship”?
JW: Yes. Breakup stage two. Or four. Or 10, or whatever. But yes, years later…
BD: There’s comfort.
TRACK 9: “MILLION YEARS AGO”
BD: This sounds like a throwback.
JW: Plush, pretty guitar. Yeah, and retro. At the drive-in. I really like this one.
BD: It reminds a bit of that old song, “You Belong to Me,” which Carla Bruni did a weird but pretty cover of.
JW: God, that’s amazing. Vive la France.
BD: Adele’s voice is so much better than Mrs. Sarkozy’s.
JW: Who sounds like a gas leak. Or someone huffing on a plastic bag.
BD: This song ended sort of abruptly, but I liked it.
TRACK 10: “ALL I ASK”
BD: Second-to-last song. We’re in the home stretch now.
JW: This one has plenty of urgency up front. She’s definitely nearing the finish line.
BD: “I won’t say a word. They’ve all been said before.”
JW: Whoa. That key change was sensational into the on-ramp to the chorus.
JW: Whoa. Wow.
BD: I mean this is pretty fucking amazing.
JW: There is it.
BD: Literally. Actual chills.
JW: Skin. Crawling.
BD: I can’t wait to watch her do this at the Grammys.
JW: “What if I never love again?” Christ. This is Adele at her best.
BD: “I’m sure my eyes speak for me” is a great line.
JW: I mean, what if there is a finite amount of love in the world, Ben?
BD: That’s a chilling thought.
JW: Horrifying. Jesus.
BD: It’s so good, and so, I don’t even know—like the metaphor is one you hear in pop songs a lot, but this is just ages more developed than something like Ariana Grande’s “One More Time.”
JW: Shit! Modulation straight-outta hell. Ride that fucking modulation to the pain, lady!
BD: “Hold me like I’m more than just a friend.” God she is killing this.
JW: I actually just teared up. That line: “What if I never love again?” What’s wrong with me, Ben? I’m really a happy person. Fuck fuck fuck.
BD: I mean that was fucking brilliant.
TRACK 11: “SWEETEST DEVOTION”
BD: Faster. Running through a field, confidently.
JW: It’s spring, after winter.
BD: The long cold and lonely winter chastened her and she grew and now she’s ready to do the things she should have done in the fall.
JW: That Uber finally fucking arrived.
BD: I was really nervous that the last song would be a disappointment because of how good that last one was and this one isn’t as breathtaking but it is a thematic fit.
JW: This also—and I have no idea, but guessing—this doesn’t sound like a love song. I reckon it’s about her kid. The “Sweetest Devotion.” There’s something timeless, unconditional.
BD: Oh wow, you’re right, I think. The lyrics fit perfect.
JW: It’s not about a man, some fading but important love. But an all-encompassing devotion.
BD: Ready to enter the rest of my life, which will be about you, child.
JW: THAT’S IT. DID YOU HEAR IT, her kid? Right at the end.
BD: Wow. So I’m blown away by this album.
JW: Yeah, I got the feels. In a way that I wasn’t expecting. 21 was such a powerful, excruciating rush of hits, I was worried. But this is more complex—but so solidly built on a strong foundation.
BD: Right, I mean even the songs on the weaker side were complex and intricate and, on a pure level, totally enjoyable to listen to. But the best ones were astounding in their ambition and nuance.
JW: I was about to type “This is not a pop album” in the sense that it’s trying to innovate, or something. Maybe that’s right. Maybe not. It feels more classic. Something that will last. Not fashionable in the slightest. In fact it’s strongest moments hark backwards.
BD: The best songs on the album aren’t the pure hits you’d expect.
JW: “I’m in this business for life” is sort of what she’s saying. “Here’s my latest.”
BD: “I don’t need to make this sound like everyone else.”
JW: Should we get this thing online?