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Voice in the room

columns Updated: Mar 26, 2011 17:57 IST
Indrajit Hazra

It's not always that you get someone who says that she's been influenced by both Etta James and the Spice Girls. But English wundersinger Adele does, thereby confirming my defence of the Spice music (it was Melanie Sporty Spice's skanky vocals that were trashy!). And if you thought that this makes her another Katy Perry boinking out tackiness by the jar, pick up her second album 21. Adele's is a swimming, underwater voice.

Slower, deeper and dreamier than her 2008 debut album, 19, this CD starts with Rolling in the deep, as Adele herself correctly describes as a "dark, bluesy gospel tune" (co-written by Paul Epworth, producer of acts including Florence and the Machine, Primal Scream and Bloc Party). The soul-infused handclapping does go well with the Goldfrapp-style discoball feel. Rumour has it makes us go deeper into Adele's rich, molten chocolate voice, the Motown oil rubbed all over the song. It's not a faux 60s style track along the lines of Duffy, but one that takes it forward and makes it here and now.

Adele drops a gear to follow a piano tide in Turning tables, a ballad drenched in strings that seems like something that Whitney Houston may have forgotten and left behind. The sound moves to a different zone in Don't you remember, an interesting country track. What makes it different from a Shania Twain number is that it's clear that the sound comes not from a barn but from a porch - another way of saying that Adele's talent for entering a genre through her voice is quite a treat.

Set fire to the rain is a standard operation pop procedure song that can be heartily skipped if for nothing else but to move to the next song, He won't go, a classic R&B where the voice lava starts flowing again. It doesn't have the power of the early tracks on this album but it certainly shows the singer's Nadia Comaneci-like dexterity with her voice - the start-stopping drums being matched note-for-note by words.

The voice soars in Take it all. Once again, we enter the gospel room with the distinct feeling that Elton John is sitting in the corner. The song is startlingly infused with Adele's voice, searing and strong and yet doubly vulnerable to utter sincerity. Boogie-woogie walks into the house with 'I'll be waiting', a song brimming with radiant energy and body sway. The album touches an anti-gravity spot here, being lifted, no strings attached, shimmering like a post-rainburst cloud.

Adele's voice has matured, soaked since the last album, as has her range. The pleading One and only is soul swimming in a sea of soul. To not play this track with the volume cranked up and with a heavy short glass in one's hand is almost a crime. Adele does her cover of 'Love song', another of her favourite bands, The Cure (from their 1989 album Disintegration). The sombre, minimalism of the song is injected with a sad, summer breeze of a voice.

21 is a genuinely moving album where the voice stands up and is counted. Adele is not a 'same old same old' in new packaging. The perfect night music after a tiring, tired and frayed day.

Hard rock, soft copy
I just checked. Neither has Collective Soul gone kaput nor has their singer Ed Roland started a side project with a South African band called Prime Circle. But I'll be damned if Johannesburg band Prime Circle's frontman Ross Learmoth doesn't sound exactly like dear Ed.

Well, Prime Circle's fourth album Jekyll & Hyde doesn't have anything really that can be called their own. Or anything that managed to make me sit up from my reclining position and incline my ears towards the speakers. But what works is the no-nonsense, muscular rock sound that can happily run in any pub or joint in between the live acts changing.

Everything you want, especially with its spaghetti-friendly guitar, is not a bad tune at all. I'm ready is a chuckle of a song, while Not the same is an uncharacteristically happy tune from a Look I'm so morose band. The opening track, Closure is the standout with its strong, sinewy guitar'n'drums chops and 'feelings' that can readily be translated into healthy headbangs. A beer or two should make this album sound better than it is.