Adele(XL)

If Adele had followed her rather lovely debut album 19 with a similarly sumptuous second album we'd have been more than happy.

Sweet songs like Hometown Glory and her exquisite interpretation of Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love, all delivered with that extraordinary honey-dipped voice were enough to place Ms Adkins a cut above the rest.

What we didn't expect was for Adele to raise her game to such a level that we're now prepared to call her the finest singer of a generation. Seriously.

New album 21 contains a vocal performance that places Adele in the league of the true greats. She's a soul diva in the best sense, avoiding all the tricks, clichés and de-rigueur melisma associated with such a description. Or in simpler terms: blimey!

Single Rolling In The Deep is characteristic of several of 21's biggest tracks. Rumour Has It attaches a similar primal stomp to a pacey, hypnotic, funk, interrupted by sublime symphonic blues, while I'll Be Waiting brings out the brass section for a Rolling Stones-esque barroom gospel. Yet there's nothing retro about these songs. 21 is resolutely a 21st century record, albeit one that's shot through with echoes of music's past masters.

Set Fire To The Rain is perhaps the biggest departure for Adele as she takes on the sacred art of the power ballad, stretching her previously introspective jazz-tinged vocals to an all-out passionate holler. That she does this with such ease and emotional connection will have many of America's top belters quaking in fear. And we can only hope Mary J. Blige takes He Won't Go as a reminder of what she was capable of at her absolute heart-baring best.

Where no one can compare to Adele is in her ability to sing sadness without resorting to mawkish sentiment - she's resigned to lost or unrequited love but defiantly soldiers on. We challenge our steeliest readers to listen to the extraordinary Turning Tables and not cry like a toddler with a skinned-knee, when her voice cracks at the line "It's time to say goodbye". And we'll freely admit we've never got through the album's closer Someone Like You (previewed with jaw-dropping perfection on Later... with Jools Holland) without losing control of our lower lip.

In a few year's time, people will lament that no one makes classic albums like Adele's 21 anymore. But the fact is, they rarely did. This one's special.

  • Click on the thumbnails below for more albums we're looking forward to in 2011