Is 25 the most anticipated pop album of its generation? There is certainly no doubt that Adele's grip on the music-buying public remains as resolute as ever, despite her absence from the scene since the touring cycle for 2011's gargantuan 21 wound down several years ago.
The question is, how can you possibly follow up such a world-beating album? The 27-year-old Londoner hasn't quite bowed under the pressure on her third record, but this is not quite the genre-defining collection that many may have expected. For all intents and purposes, Adele is still mining the same feelings of brokenheartedness and isolation as she always has; it's there in the first song, Hello ("They say that time's supposed you heal you, but I ain't done much healing") and in Love in the Dark ("It means the world to me that you're in my life / But I want to live and not just survive").
Wrapped around a pervasive piano-and-strings combination that runs through the album, things soon become a little predictable, and her co-write with Ryan Tedder, Remedy, is simply boring.
When she does cut loose from the gloomy balladry, there is a lot to like. The hymnal River Lea pays tribute to the place she grew up and plays like a sequel to 19's Hometown Glory. She nods to the 1970s on When We Were Young, co-written by Tobias Jesso Jr. (himself an advocate of that sound) and on All I Ask, while the simple flutter of acoustic guitar on Million Years Ago is strangely reminiscent of Mariah Carey's similarly stripped-back hit My All.
The thing that sets Adele apart from her peers, however, is that singular, soulful voice that is so wonderfully capable of conveying emotion. You believe her whether she's singing about nursing a broken heart, ending a relationship or espousing the joys of motherhood on the celebratory Sweetest Devotion – but you also wonder where it might have taken her if only she'd been a little braver. On All I Ask, she speculates: "What if I never love again?"
Judging by her subject matter to date, well, at least she’ll get another couple of albums out of it.