Here we are, four years after one of the biggest-selling and most successful albums of recent times. The biggest question is, how on earth could Adele possibly follow up ' 21's ode to a broken heart? The short answer: write another album that's by and large about the same topic.
At one point, the legend built up around '25' almost overshadowed the music. Phil Collins was involved, then he wasn't. Damon Albarn wrote some songs with her, and then – when he knew they weren't going to be used – called her 'insecure' and her new material 'middle of the road'. Ouch.
As it happens, Albarn's assessment of Adele's third album isn't that far off the mark. '25' is a rather middle-of-the-road album that sees the Londoner play it a little safe. There are no immediate tracks that stand out in the same way as the fiery regret of 'Rolling in the Deep' or the stark diary-entry truthfulness of 'Someone Like You'.
That's not to say that '25' is a dud, by any means; her voice is a weapon on the soaring 'When We Were Young', the playful 'Send My Love (To Your New Lover)' has a touch of Lorde's 'Royals' to it, while the percussion-heavy 'I Miss You' is a definite highlight.
Yet it is when Adele's lyric-writing strays from her well-trodden, heartache-strewn path – as heard on the touching 'Sweetest Devotion', written about her son Angelo ("There is something about the way you love me that finally feels like home") – that she is infinitely more interesting. Similarly, 'Million Years Ago' reflects on returning to her pre-fame days, while 'River Lea' references her roots and how her upbringing continues to mold her as a person ('When I was a child, I grew up beside the River Lea, there was something in the water, not that something is in me").
The problem is that those tunes are tucked amidst the same aching balladry that we've heard her do so many times before. The end product? Well, it sounds precisely like you might expect of an Adele album, when – given the tools and influence at her disposal – it really could have been so much more.