Every Adele album ranked, from 19 to 30
This is honestly harder than ranking family members
Look, there’s no such thing as a bad Adele album. She could be singing Swagger Jagger by Cher Lloyd and her rich, trademark vocals would elevate it to Grammy standard. Our own Adele Adkins is the best thing this cursed island has produced in our lifetime – and she’s soundtracked the last decade and a half with ease. Charming, down to earth, funny and humble despite being the biggest star in the world, Adele appeals to all with her timeless sound. The fact she vanishes off the face of the earth between album cycles only adds to her mystique. But which of the four Adele albums deserves to be ranked the best?
Everyone has a favourite Adele album, and debating which is the best amongst music fans is likely to cause destruction and fury. But I’m not afraid of carnage. In fact, I welcome it. This ranking is definitive. Here are all four Adele albums ranked from worst to best…
Sadly taking the lowest ranked spot when ranking Adele albums is 2015’s 25 – her third studio album. I remember vividly watching The X Factor and the teaser dropping for lead single Hello. “Hello. It’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.” A black screen, the unmistakable voice, the lyrics telling you all you need to know. What a way to reintroduce yourself to the world after becoming a global superstar with your previous album! Hello was followed by When We Were Young – a slightly saccharine single that has an incredible high note if nothing else and the pop banger Send My Love (To Your New Lover). All bonafide Adele classics, but where 25 slightly stumbles is in its album tracks.
It’s not that anything here is stinkingly bad, but there is a lack of lyrical prowess on album tracks. The slog happens towards the end of the record, with Love In The Dark, Million Years Ago and Sweetest Devotion not really hitting like they should do. Whilst 25 is front loaded with its wows, it certainly is not a bad record and is still an absolute essential entry to her discography.
If Adele’s first album showed her potential, 21 executed that potential into undeniable superstardom. 21 is hit after hit after hit. With her sophomore record, Adele was inspired by a Southern Bluesy sound after she toured America, and that sound wallops you right in the face straight off the bat on lead single and album opener Rolling In The Deep. There’s a reason Emma Thompson dragged her nearby audience members off their feet for it in the recent TV special – you’d be hard pressed to find a more stirring banger in the last 20 years. Rolling In The Deep permeates through Adele’s soul, and subsequently through yours when you press play. 21 couples the anger with the fragility – you get the scream alongs of Rumour Has It and Set Fire To The Rain with the weeps of Turning Tables and, well, a song that deserves its own paragraph.
Someone Like You. SOMEONE LIKE YOU? The world flooded from everyone’s collective tears. The lyrics are devastating, her vocal delivery is unmatched and it’s arguably one of the greatest ballads ever written. A universally adored wow. I do think 21 is a record where the singles are more impressive than its deep cuts, with the exception of One And Only – a stunningly written and sang tune that could definitely have had a single push.
Her most underrated and often most interesting album, do not sleep on 19! There’s a rawness and vulnerability that comes with 19 that Adele will never be able to capture again. That’s no fault of her own, it’s just that 19’s power comes from its earnestness, the songs written by a young woman who’s wise beyond her years and sounds like she’s already lived through a generation’s worth of heartache. Hometown Glory, her debut single and a major sleeper hit, was written by a 16 year old Adele in 10 minutes as she faced pressure from her mum to move to university. It’s one of the best written songs ever. End of. Give it up for her pen!
Chasing Pavements was the first song I remember hearing from Adele as a 12 year old first getting into music, and I relatively enjoyed it – but it wasn’t until I bounced along to the groove of Cold Shoulder that I was sold. 19 is an interesting and rich record that begs for a relisten. The opening track Daydreamer is spectacular and one of the best non singles she’s ever crafted. 19 does however contain Adele’s worst song, the sickly and nauseatingly produced First Love that sounds like it’s from a crap horror film about a haunted doll. But that aside, I would still always choose to revisit 19 over 21 and 25. It’s more raw, and when it soars, oh, it SOARS.
This isn’t recency bias, this is just facts: 30 is the best album Adele has ever released. It’s her magnum opus – the best she’s ever sounded and the best she has ever written. Upon release, 30 instantly became her most critically acclaimed album and there’s no complaints from me on that matter. It just objectively is, and it stands out amongst 2021 releases for reasons that will benefit Adele immensely. The music industry is very different today than it was even just in 2015 – mainly due to the impact of TikTok on the way hits can be formed. Songs are clocking in around the two and a half minute mark to secure streaming hit potential – and yet most songs on 30 push past six minutes. Simply put, when it comes to social trends and TikTok, Adele doesn’t give a shit.
That’s no slander to the artists who are perfecting that strategy, there’s a place for all. But it’s a testament to Adele’s artistry that like singers in the vein of Lana Del Rey she’s putting the stories she wants to tell first. And when they’re as good as they are on 30, the world’s right there with her. “Divorce, babe, divorce,” Adele said on what the album was going to be about – and she followed through with a sprawling journey of heartache and resolution. Much of 30 is dedicated to Angelo, Adele’s nine year old son and trying to explain divorce to a person of that age. 30 lets us in to see an Adele we rarely get to, one who is lonely and open and vulnerable. It’s spectacular at making you cry and it’s excellent at giving a banger when it needs to (Can I Get It and Oh My God, hello to you!)
Easy On Me sounded safe when I first heard it, wanting and yearning for Adele to do something completely different this era I felt disappointed. But over time and as I’ve let the song in, it’s become one of my all time favourites – a song that feels like you’ve known if your whole life. The drunk swagger of I Drink Wine has the likability of Rihanna’s Love On The Brain and it’s the correct choice for the next single. But the best song on the record, the song Adele has vowed to never sing live, is the earth shattering To Be Loved. I mean, come on. The vocals are some of the best I’ve ever heard – a little moment of magic created in the studio that will live forever as her best song. And I don’t say that lightly.
30 is the best ranked of all Adele albums because it’s her at her biggest, best and most special.