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Music: Adele - 21 * * * *

Londoner Adele Adkins made quite an impact three years ago with her soulful debut album, 19.

Its title referenced her tender years, and most listeners may have had to pinch themselves that she really was so young. Here was someone being compared to Aretha Franklyn whose songs suggested she had packed a great deal into her life. And the really cool thing was people of all ages could identify with what she was writing about.

Following up such an acclaimed album is never easy, but the BRIT School graduate -- now 22 -- has succeeded admirably. The rule-book hasn't been reinvented. Instead, she's delivered an album packed with really good songs certain to appeal to anyone who loved her first album. If anything, though, this collection is even more introspective and personal than her debut, and it's more consistently strong.

The songs are inspired by her relationship with a young musician, and the songs chart its highs and lows. Mostly, though, they are concerned with the demise of the affair and my, does Adele mine some gold dust from the heartache. It's true, isn't it, that a broken heart yields more durable music than a happy one? It's certainly the case here.

Lead single Rolling in the Deep is typical of the bittersweet fare. Her voice is a thing of such beauty here as she ruminates on lost love, but it's her ability to meld frustration, bitterness and anger with the unabashed melancholy that makes the song so powerful -- and real. And that's the key to understanding Adele's appeal -- unlike many of her peers, her passionate delivery is never over-blown or phoney. Like all great singers, you truly believe she feels the pain, not least when she delivers the knockout line "you're gonna wish you had never met me".

Among the heavyweight producers is Rick Rubin, whose gift for stripping songs to their core is exemplified by a fine version of The Cure's Lovesong. She succeeds in making the song her own as she did recently with Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love.

But it's on a pair of piano-led songs that Adele's undeniable talents shine through. The fragile Turning Tables would melt the hardest heart, while closer Someone Like You is sparse and haunting, and finds the singer begging her ex for another chance. You have to go back to Beck's Sea Change to find a major artist as emotionally naked as this.

Burn it: Turning Tables; Rolling in the Deep; Someone Like You

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