Do you prefer to think of 2011's top diva, Adele, as a lonely, wounded wallflower, brooding quietly, obsessively, and soulfully over her lost loves? Or as the brassy, ballsy best friend you can't shut up?
You get your pick with the two-disc Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall, depending on whether you favor the CD or DVD component of the combo-platter package.
If you put on the audio-only disc, you get a version of the concert that cuts out just about all the chatter and focuses on the purely musical aspects of Adele, the neo-soul tragedian. Load up the DVD, though, and you get an extra half-hour's worth of candid, Cockney-accented, frequently profane girl talk. These amusingly extroverted song intros put the show in a different perspective that leans more toward the comic side of tragicomedy.
You can't go wrong with either Adele. But you might want to start with the CD first, just to bask in the lonesome sensuality of the voice that's captivated the world, before you make any internal adjustments for the full force of the not-so-forlorn personality that comes to the fore in the expanded video version.
If you're looking for the antithesis of Beyonce Live at Roseland, a concert DVD that also comes out this week, Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall is it. Beyonce's show was billed as intimate, but Adele's really fits that bill, with impromptu storytelling that frequently borders on TMI.
Essentially, she's an Us Magazine Stars: They're Just Like Us! feature come to life.
Want to know how she's feeling? Introducing Take It All, she threatens, It's got some high notes, so bear with me, because I've just had a respiratory infection. Quickly, she interrupts the number: That was a shit note -- let's start again. It was a bit shit. (The CD version spares you the false start.)
Want to learn more about the breakup that prompted most of 21, which has sold more than 4.5 million copies in America? You're really in luck. He left me a couple of weeks after I played him this song, she declares, also by way of introducing Take It All. It was for the best, though. He was an ass and I was a bitch -- it wasn't going to work.
Later we learn that she's reconciled, platonically, with her former beau, who's come to appreciate being the bastard who inspired 2011's top-selling record. Not on the guest list, though, was her rebound romance, the guy who inspired the one happy song on 21, One and Only: When I wrote this song, I was really an optimist. I thought the sun shone out of his ass... Not enough time has gone by since he was a f---ing prick to me. So I will chat shit about him until I'm blue in the face.
We wouldn't necessarily want to sit through all these friendly, F-word-riddled revelations if she didn't deliver the goods when it came time to stand and deliver. (Or sit and deliver. Adele uses a chair for parts of the show, because I'm partially lazy...and also to make it feel like it's my front room and we're just having a cup of tea and a takeaway.)
But, of course, it's a glorious instrument and not a size 2 figure that's made the world take a shine to her. And not a perfect voice, by any means -- it's surprising how many borderline-pitchy or nearly muffed notes have been left in the mix -- but a wonderful alto that seems effortlessly communicative of a rich inner life. Over a full course of 17 songs, you're not about to tire of it.
As she fully admits early in the show, she doesn't have many fast or upbeat songs, so she wisely sprinkles the ones she does have through the middle of the set -- including the nearly tribal Rumour Has It and the Americana-ish If It Hadn't Been for Love, a cover of a bluegrass passion-crime tune originated by Nashville's Steel Drivers.
Other covers include the Cure's Love Song and Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love -- as already heard on her two studio albums -- plus I Can't Make You Love Me, a classic of unrequited love that you'd have to swear she wrote if Bonnie Raitt hadn't turned it into the ultimate female weepie back when Adele was 2.
Without a doubt, she's the classiest singer ever to hold two middle fingers up in the middle of a song at the Royal Albert Hall. In an age starved for both musicality and humility, both Adeles -- the tearjerker, and the tart -- seem like godsends.