There is much to respect about Adele. I must be clear in this fact, for if anything her resounding use of Estuary English on the world stage is a rare thing indeed. She also can sing; not to the heights of Shirley Bassey, Aretha Franklin and the other greats, but she can certainly hold a tune. Though as she returns to us after taking some time off with her third numbered album and it’s (spoilers) incredibly disappointing and bland lead single; I’m once again left disheartened by the power and sway held by my industry. A songwriter I recently made acquaintance with, Benjie Loveless recently posted something I’ve seen far too many times over the years; the final statement of defeat. Normally it goes something along the lines of: “Thanks for the support over the years but I’m just fed up of nobody listening and the system being gained against me”. I know, I know, the success rate for musicians is minimal and there comes a time when you have no choice but to cauterize the gushing wound. Yet Benjie’s music is good and interesting and different from most; the sound of one man making the music he wants without external interference. Thankfully he seems to have retracted his statement (as I can’t find it anywhere) but the fact he got so frustrated in the first place upset me. The fact that anyone should ever feel this way upsets me. What has this got to do with Adele? Let me digress.
Numbers. It’s all about numbers. How many sales, how many plays, how many followers blindly following you off the cliff. All the advice on *ahem* ‘making it’ urges you to up all your numbers before the big men upstairs even consider giving you a shot; get those Twitter friends and Facebook likes by fair means or foul. You gotta show the hard proof that there is a market for your work. Adele has numbers. Adele has had numbers from the beginning by dint of being an alumnus of the BRIT School. For those unaware, the BRIT School is a government funded (with help from the British Record Industry Trust) performing arts school in the UK that has produced acts like The Feeling, The Kooks, Katie B, Katie Melua, Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse amongst many, many others. ‘Wow’, I hear you cry, ‘how progressive!’. It is, of course. But I have axes to grind and issues to air. The problem with grooming children for (often monetary) ‘success’ in this business is that you make (often monetary) ‘success’ the only medium with which you can judge yourself and your art. This is stupid. Utterly, utterly stupid.
Before releasing her new album Adele tried to work with Damon Albarn, allegedly a personal hero (though quite how is beyond me). It didn’t go well, Adele was desperate for advice on how to deal with the pressure of returning to the public eye after years away but Albarn just wanted to work and create. The arrangement broke down, he called her ‘insecure’ and her new album ‘middle of the road’. She used her bigger persona to say ‘don’t work with your idols’. But he has a point. She was being irrationally, unnecessarily insecure. Her album was always going to be a mega success because she was groomed that way. She’s simply too big to fail. Albarn on the other hand is a genuine lover of music; a man with endless tastes and influence who, through struggling up the musical ladder, has earned his place at the top of the pile. He didn’t get any fast-track education and a book of contacts on completing his basic schooling. He merely formed a band, wrote music he liked and then ground it out until it was a success. From his perspective Adele was whining about an impossibility when she should have been focusing on crafting some amazing tunes. I mean, why else would she want to work with such a uniquely talented person?
Which brings us neatly on to ‘Hello’. There is painfully little to say about ‘Hello’. It is harmonically uninspired and dull. It steals Lionel Richie‘s inflection, intonation and title so flagrantly I’m sure they’ll call it a homage. It’s chorus exists only so Adele can lower the diaphragm and let rip; though as there lacks any sense of emotional build up or variation in timbre throughout, it falls flat. The trick with Adele’s music is imagine other people singing it, I can see Katy Perry muddling through this, or Kate Nash, or Miley Cyrus. Bland singers for a bland song. Then we have the lyrics; lyrics are meant to be Adele’s strong point, displaying as she does a compelling knack for distilling her heartbreak into 3 minute odes. Beside the aforementioned lifting of Lionel, there’s a shameless use of ‘California Dreaming‘ for no reason other than to connect it to a better song by our mental association. Thematically the song is as follows: Hi, I’ve been thinking about our distant past for reasons not worth going into, sorry about that, oh, you don’t really care, bye. What is that? A weak Adele fixated on a broken past (probably because her present is full of happiness) even though the person she is desperate to call has moved on like a sensible person. This isn’t poetry. This is barely text. Yet it is all irrelevant as she’s got the numbers. She’s got the contacts. That Estuary English endears her to an indifferent public. There was never any doubt of success.
This is what the industry wants us to believe. That once you tick all the right boxes, success will follow. This, and I can’t state this enough, is utter bollocks. Music, and the industry at large, needs to move away from this vampiric model of numbers; success comes in so many varied outlets that often (unfortunately) don’t give a payday. For me success is in writing, recording, releasing and promoting a collection of work completely on my own. It comes from my friends embracing it and asking me questions about it. It comes from strangers feeling compelled to share and comment on it. It’s a humble success but it counts. It gives my work a purpose and a life beyond anything ‘Hello’ could muster. Benjie’s work is exactly the same. Adele may be hogging the attention and empty plaudits of an industry seriously lacking in introspection, but Benjie’s work excited me. I’m sure he will keep trucking on despite the current lack of conventional success, because he is creating much needed art for the world. That brings success in of itself.