The sheer command and vulnerability of Adele‘s smoky alto is nearly unmatched by anyone else currently churning out pop hits. She may not be able to rip the roof off the same way Whitney Houston did in her heyday, but Adele’s soul makes her records a force to be reckoned with. Since the release of her debut album, 19, eight years ago, she’s solidified herself as the defining ballad singer of her generation.
Two follow-up diamond-certified LPs later — 2011’s 21 and last fall’s blockbuster 25 — Adele has plenty of hits to choose from: “Chasing Pavements,” “Someone Like You,” “Rolling in the Deep” and most recently, “Hello.” But what about those deep cuts that send us reeling? Read on for a collection of Adele’s absolute best tracks found at the depths of her three studio albums.
This acoustic opener sets the foundation for an impressive career built on the magnificence of one woman’s vulnerability and strength. She later fleshes out her sound, of course, on later albums, including the blockbuster 25. But here, at her most organic, she’s as evocative as ever.
“All I Ask,” 25
Following the impact of “Million Years Ago” is a behemoth task, but Adele pulls it off with tremendous command and calm. Clutching onto the dying embers of a relationship, she channels that angst into a walloping vocal performance full of both grit and passion.
“One and Only,” 21
Breakout hits “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” excluded, this is the defining 21 moment. The inescapable richness of the melody, backed by a jazz-influenced arrangement, is only surpassed by Adele’s haunting performance.
“I Miss You,” 25
25 is packed with ballads, and for good reason: Adele excels at them. This particular moment is especially visceral, with the juxtaposition of its undeniable beat and towering melody.
“Take It All,” 21
As the title suggestions, she takes it all (and gives it all back); by it, we mean her heart. Adele soars to the moon and back, utilizing her blustering head voice to drive home the potent story of heartache and pain. The melody heaves and sighs as it parallels Adele’s journey through the aftermath of a breakup.
“Right as Rain,” 19
This oft-overlooked track harkens back to the days of The Temptations and early Aretha Franklin, intensified by the glow of organ and a cavalcade of background singers. Adele never allows the melody to fully depart, leaving just enough space between her voice and the song’s deep groove.
“Million Years Ago,” 25
In terms of acoustic recordings, this is one of the Brit’s brightest. The ache in Adele’s voice is overwhelming: “I know I’m not the only who regrets the things they’ve done,” she wails on the 25 standout, showcasing the story embedded in the song’s bones.
“Don’t You Remember,” 21
There is a sullenness to melody, only enhanced by the way Adele calculates her performance — even the key change has a certain darkness to it. “When will I see you again?” she laments on the last line, a lingering inquiry which may never get answered.
“Crazy for You,” 19
The lapping bass licks and syncopated phrasing casts Adele down a creative path she doesn’t often wander. The soul-groove of the arrangement spins into a jazz-pop fusion, like a reinvented Ella Fitzgerald classic. Also, Adele’s layered and adventurous vocal will make any music fan go absolutely crazy.
In anyone else’s hands, another piano ballad would get lost among all the other piano ballads. But Adele hits on all cylinders on this barn-burner, fueled by her own self-reflection and resolve to be someone else’s medicine for love. “When the pain cuts you deep, when the night keeps you from sleeping, just look and you will see that I will be your remedy,” she coos into your ear.