Maybe you’re the kind of person who revolts against a song once it attains ubiquity? Or maybe you have a friend who complains that, although he “appreciates” Adele and “can’t deny her talents as a singer-songwriter,” he doesn’t understand why every bookstore/coffee shop/etc. has to play tracks from her new album 21 so damn much.
One, he should probably study up on how a promotional deal works. Two, he might want to take his homework to a greasy spoon instead of a chain coffee shop. Third, and most importantly, the track from 21 these establishments choose to play most frequently is “Rolling in the Deep.”
My first encounter with “Rolling in the Deep” came courtesy of my roommate, a music student who had already heard the song in full and was replaying the chorus so she could learn it for a class.This somewhat limited but no doubt impactful introduction suggested in that jolting moment that God is a woman, and She was singing directly to us. Placed within the context of the rest of the song, this earthshaking chorus becomes even more potent.
The track opens with a staccato guitar strum and a barely audible jangle. Adele’s unflinchingly open, self-assured vocals enter soon after, eventually accompanied by a shit-stomping drumbeat. The music becomes increasingly expansive, adding shuffling percussion and an understated piano line before erupting into its glittering, unforgettable chorus, in which Adele, joined by several backing vocalists, holds nothing back with a gorgeous vocal performance that belies her twenty-one years.
Clearly she, along with those coffee shop managers and all the people who blare it from their car stereos, know this song is the stuff of legends.
Attach any adjective you want to this track: “bluesy,” “gospel-inflected,” even “disco-y.” What makes “Rolling in the Deep” such a no-brainer as a single is that it sounds downright classic. Just as last year’s astronomically popular “Fuck You!” from Cee-lo Green’s The Lady Killer took sonic cues from a familiar template (in that case, ’60s Motown), “Rolling in the Deep” assumes the listener’s admiration for a tried-and-true soul sound. The success of both songs is a testament to the expertise each artist exhibits in mining from their source inspirations.
Nostalgia sells, and while pop tracks that strain for a futuristic sensibility obviously have a place, folks like, say, my dad (an FM-radio listener who considers “Rolling in the Deep” one of his new favorite songs) are more likely to gravitate towards a heartfelt offering like Adele’s rather than the latest afterbirth from the Black-Eyed Peas.
Like Green’s acerbic smash, “Rolling in the Deep” is essentially a big “fuck you” to a former lover. “Finally, I can see you crystal clear/Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your ship bare,” Adele sings. “See how I’ll leave with every piece of you/Don’t underestimate the things that I will do.”
Sure, many people have cited Adele’s age, labeling her as somewhat of a musical wunderkind, and whether or not you choose to take her age into account when assessing her huge talent, this degree of lyricism is much appreciated coming from someone whose generational peers would likely settle for, “Fuck my life,” to express the same feelings.
The song’s artistic value becomes even more estimable when one considers that Adele shares an age bracket with an utter no-talent like Ke$ha, who you’ll likely find on a neighboring wavelength when seeking out Adele on your tuner, provided terms like “wavelength” and “tuner” still mean something to you.
Unless you’ve been living under that time-honored rock of ignorance, you’ve no doubt heard this single. Maybe you’re burnt out on it. Revisit “Rolling in the Deep” some time soon, perhaps in a context you may not have imagined for the occasion. Close your eyes, soak in every aching, rapturous syllable, and later on ask yourself whether anyone really knows a person who’s honestly fed up with this song.