Adele's sophomore disc mines shattered love
NEW YORK (AP) -- Adele's ex-boyfriend may not be aware of it, but he's joined an illustrious club of people who were inadvertent inspirations for art.
Eminem's Kim, the comedian who dumped Alanis Morissette and heard about it on "You Oughta Know," the mystery man behind Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," Patti Boyd Harrison (Eric Clapton's tortured "Layla") and an assortment of Taylor Swift exes — they're all members.
The fingerprints of Adele's former flame are all over her sophomore disc "21," from "Rolling in the Deep," the soulful kiss-off that opens the disc, to the more reflective "Someone Like You" that ends it. The disc is released in the U.S. this week.
He may not even know his status.
"I have no idea if he's heard the record, or is kind of clever enough to link it, to think it's him," said Adele, who discreetly keeps his name private. "I'm not saying he's dim. It's just that toward the end I don't think he felt like I loved him enough to write a record about him.
"But I did," she said.
Given how second albums are often problematic for artists, it helps to have something to write about. The London-born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, who goes by her first name professionally, won best female pop vocal and best new artist at the 2009 Grammys and sold more than two million copies worldwide of "19." The 2008 debut was named for her age when she wrote the album's songs. Same thing for its follow-up.
She was discovered by her British record company after a friend posted some of her songs online. She wanted to sing, but was reluctant to dream too big, and thought XL Recordings wanted to hire her as a talent scout when instead their executives were seduced by her powerful pipes.
"I find it hard to say `Oh, I'm a singer,' because my singers are Etta James and Carole King and Robert Flack, the all-time gurus, the gods of singing," she said.
Ryan Tedder, who co-wrote two songs on Adele's new disc, is a believer. He's still flabbergasted by watching her nail one of those songs, "Turning Tables," on the first take in the studio. "Rumour Has It" took two takes.
Tedder, who has written or produced songs for Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson and Leona Lewis, said Adele is "the single greatest female singer alive, period.
"I've worked with a lot of people," he said. "I've never, ever, ever seen or witnessed a singer do what she does in the recording studio."
VH1 taped an "Unplugged" episode with Adele, accompanied by just a guitar and piano, that will premiere on the network March 4. VH1 will show it online a day earlier.
Rick Krim, executive vice president of talent and music programming at VH1, likes Adele's voice and attitude.
"She always had this playful cockiness about her," he said.
Adele worked with several co-writers and two main producers on "21": Paul Epworth, a hip Brit who also produced Florence and the Machine, and Rick Rubin, the bear-hugging American record executive and producer renowned for getting back to basics with artists in the studio.
She said she appreciated the different approaches, each part of her learning process.
"I could have been in any era when I was hanging out with Rick," she said. "I could have been in the '40s or 2080 or something. He calmed me and made me focus that it's all about the music, all about the song, and it's not about the glitter that comes after it. That was the best and biggest lesson I've learned."
Epworth brought out a feisty side of her.
He probably earned his money on one day, when a moaning Adele showed up in the studio after breaking up with her boyfriend the night before. She wanted to write a lovelorn ballad. Epworth said no way.
In three hours they had written "Rolling in the Deep," where the singer is a survivor, not a broken woman. "I couldn't help thinking, we could have had it all," she sings, her voice soaring in defiance.
"She's evolved, she's been through a lot in the last couple of years," Krim said. "There's a little more swagger on this record, but it's not like a big departure from what she'd done on her last record. It's a nice growth."
Adele feels she's grown simply in her attitude toward music. She became enamored with two seemingly divergent styles — American country or roots music and rap — and broadened her view.
"I used to be really stubborn and narrow-minded," she said. "I was very much a teenager: what I knew was all that I needed to know, and what I like is all that I'd ever like. Now I'm a bit of a sponge. I want to take everything in and learn about it."
Her disc has one cover song. She tried one old favorite, INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart," but thought she didn't nail it emotionally. Instead, she dipped into the catalog of her mom's favorite band — the Cure — for an arrangement of "Love Song" that had been prepared for, although not used, by Barbra Streisand.
"They were the soundtrack of my life from birth until I was about 9 or 10, when I discovered the Spice Girls," she said.
It makes for a nice segue into "Someone Like You," when Adele, now 22, imagines running into her ex with a few more years of perspective.
"By the end, I was so tired of being (angry) about my ex," she said. "I had to forgive myself for not making the relationship work."
Associated Press Writer Mesfin Fekadu contributed to this story.
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