The best joke in the music business right now is, according to Cactus Music's Quinn Bishop, something frequently heard recently at his cash register: "Dude, you're getting Adele."
Even I bought 21 yesterday, the swiping of a credit card that completed a cycle that began several months ago. One night, half-asleep on my parents' couch while recovering from my heart attack, I saw the "Rolling In the Deep" video in the wee hours on VH1.
I think it was the New Orleans parade drum that gooses the song that made it click. Or those backing vocals that weave in and out. I think, though, that it's the way the song just moves, like mercury. I do finally get Adele.
This after studiously avoiding 21 as "Someone Like You" swept across the world like a virus last year, a phenomenon captured in a funny SNL sketch where a group of men scoffed at first but became enraptured by the song in spite of themselves. With today's media environment of social networking, text alerts, streaming video and whatever else, fewer and fewer songs can pierce that 24-7 din and become a genuine cultural moment the way this one did.
But after putting the album on, it was obvious I was going to like it. Anyone who has listened to as much Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Motown, Annie Lennox, Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones as I have would. There are few things I'd rather hear than a good soul singer who can hit that sweet spot between gospel and opera. But plenty of people can sing the hell out of the phone book; Adele and her collaborators managed to recast one of music's oldest and sometimes most tiresome subjects, heartbreak, without lapsing into cliché.
Adele is poised to get blisters on her heels walking to the podium at Sunday's Grammys, where she will perform live for the first time since vocal problems forced her to cancel her scheduled U.S. tour (including Houston) several months ago. CBS has used her face, "Rolling In the Deep" and little else to promote this year's awards, which is probably a fair indicator of her chances.
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I hope she does. Not because it's nice to see someone who has so much talent have so little interest in pulling a star trip (though it is), but because it's evidence that quality work can still be commercially successful.
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the biggest album of the year is also the best. For those of us who despair that most music released these days is barely worth listening to, it's reassuring to discover something great right under our noses, comforting not only to know that great albums not only still get released, but that they can also still succeed
And probably Sunday, be rewarded.