Interviewer: So give me your views on five of Adele’s songs on her latest album.
Kurt Poterack: How about two?
Kurt Poterack: Two.
Kurt Poterack: Two.
Kurt Poterack: Five.
Interviewer: Two . . . Hey, wait a minute. You tricked me!
Kurt Poterack: OK, but let’s make it four. The cafe closes early today.
Interviewer: Fine, four it is.
Kurt Poterack: I suppose that I have to start with the first track which is “Hello.”
Interviewer: And you have to say something nice first!
Kurt Poterack: Who are you, my mother? Well, anyhow, I suppose I should say that in general what Adele is good at – or her collaborators are good at – is creating a sense of flow and build in her songs. “Hello” is a good example of this. She takes this basic new type of song which is an amalgamation (often) of the 32 bar song and a four-measure chaconne.
Interviewer: Could we call Adele the “chaconne chick”?
Kurt Poterack: Hey, I tell the jokes around here! Yeah I suppose so.
Interviewer: So what is a chaconne?
Kurt Poterack: It was originally a dance, but the music that accompanied it was based upon a very short repeated pattern of 4-8 measures. Bach wrote a famous chaconne for solo violin based upon eight chords within four measures, however the variety he pulled out of those eight chords is really beyond compare. Listen to the Jascha Heifetz recording.
Now Bach’s is for solo violin and is very long, but there is a similar effect – a kind of a hypnotic, mantra-like repetition – in Adele’s music. She (or her collaborators) create interest through dynamic change and change of instrumentation, although there are some changes of melody as well.
OK, there. I said something nice.
Interviewer: So what is the negative thing you are going to say about this song?
Kurt Poterack: Nothing other than my criticism of the “four-chord genre” in general: there is no strong melody that one can extract and sing a cappella which would make much sense. The melody consists of a bunch of catchy ‘hooks’ and what might be described as simplified psalm tones: a little formula made up of the notes Ab, Bb and C which get repeated and can be stretched to fit the different number of syllables in each phrase.
Interviewer: What are ‘hooks’?
Kurt Poterack: Hard to define, but I will try. They are basically 2-4 measure melodic motives and/or accompanimental figurations which are catchy. They give the listener some sort of emotional jag or feeling of exaltation often.
Interviewer: Anything else to criticize?
Kurt Poterack: I suppose that this song is supposed to be her attempt to apologize to the guy she dissed in “Set Fire to the Rain,” but, my goodness – “I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet to go over everything . . . I must have called a thousand times . . . but when I call you never seem to be home.”
I wonder why? Stalker!
I wonder if I am the only one who sees (indeed, hears) the irony. Adele is trying to sing like a black girl, but absolutely cannot escape being a certain sort of obsessive, melancholic, whiny, white girl. Not the free-wheeling “baby, you make me feel so fiiiiiiiine!” of Etta James, but “we need to sit down and have an extensive post-mortem until we understand why, where and exactly when our relationship (which has been over for years) went wrong and I am going to keep calling you until you agree to this.”
Kurt Poterack: Track Four: “When We Were Young.” This is a theme running throughout the album – not just in this song. “We,” (I suppose Adele and her contemporaries) in their mid-20’s (!), “are no longer young.” Boo-hoo. I have no sympathy for this. Absolutely none. In fact to me the funniest moment in the song was when the backup singers continuously sing that phrase “When We Were Young” in the background. Because of the way rock singers emphasize certain odd vowels of diphthongs, I misunderstood what they were singing the first two times. They sang the phrase as “Win Wee Weer Yehhhhhng,” which sounded to me like, “Inebriate!” So it sounded, for a moment, like the backup singers had become a Greek Chorus calling out Adele and the whole enterprise for its pretentious silliness: “Inebriate! Inebriate! Inebriate!” “You’re drunk on your own sense of self-importance and melodrama!”
Really, get over your navel gazing!
Interviewer: You enjoy being a cranky old geezer, don’t you?
Kurt Poterack: Absolutely!
Kurt Poterack: Track Eight: “Love in the Dark.” Another break up song. Interestingly she tells the man, “I don’t think you can save me.” There’s that theme again. Our gal, Adele, is rather traditional after all. She’s looking for a knight in shining armor – but is she too high-maintenance for any knight?
The use of strings is nice.
Interviewer: OK, last song.
Kurt Poterack: And I really am saving the best for last. Truly the best track on the entire album – musically (and I stress this) musically – is Track Ten: “All I Ask.”
Lyrically, I don’t care for it very much. It’s one of those complicated (and confused) relationship songs – “I don’t know if we are more than just friends, but let’s pretend like we are, for this one night, so we will have pleasant memories even if it doesn’t work out.” Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! No more relationship songs, please. I’m worn out. Here is where I sympathize with Joe Flaherty’s parody of Norman Maine giving advice to Esther Blodgett in A Star Is Born: “Honey, people don’t want to hear songs about people loving people. They want to hear songs about critters. You know, cows, pigs, goats, ducks . . . . “
A think Adele should write songs about critters from now on.
Anyway, what is good about the song is that it sounds the least like an Adele song. I heard a diminished chord (!), a modulation (even if it was only a ‘Barry Manilow’ half-step modulation), a suspended chord and, I think (once I recover with the use of smelling salts) a few eight-measure phrases (!!!!)
Thank God for the answers to prayers!