English soul singer Adele uses the word “proper” a lot: to describe poets (she counts Jill Scott and Karen Dalton among her faves), love (“Daydreamer,” the opening track of her debut, is about a bisexual boy she says she was “proper in love with”), lust (“What am I supposed to do to make you want me properly?” she begs on “Best for Last”), and jobs (she’s never had a “proper” one, according to the album’s press notes). The 20-year-old singer’s 19 focuses primarily on the abovementioned topics of love and lust, making room in her bed (the folky “Crazy for You”) and other times not (“Right As Rain”). Critics have favorably compared Adele to Amy Winehouse, but most of 19 plays like the quieter moments on Kate Nash’s Made of Bricks; the production is largely simple and organic, wisely showcasing Adele’s voice, which is appropriately soulful and imperfect. Adele’s vocals are richer than Nash’s, though, and Joss Stone would be a better point of reference, particularly on the song “Melt My Heart to Stone.” Producer/songwriter Eg White, who contributed to Duffy’s Rockferry, brings a slightly more ambitious production quality to songs like the bass-driven “Best for Last” and lead single “Chasing Pavements,” but only occasionally, like on the standout “Cold Shoulder” (produced by Mark Ronson and featuring lush strings, squelchy guitars, and a nice drum shuffle), does 19 really ever sound like Winehouse’s Back to Black. Adele’s lyrics aren’t anything to get excited about, but there’s room for growth and, if nothing else, her delivery (“I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque,” she sings on “Hometown Glory”) signals something worth keeping both an eye and ear on.
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