Tuesday, October 9, 2007

KQED Music: Adele's Cute Accent

What is it about a voice? I've long since lost count of the otherwise talented bands I've hated, or mediocre acts I've loved, based solely on their singers. And it's the one aspect of musical taste that seems least universal or easy to predict in others. How often have you recommended a CD to someone, only for it to be returned with a comment like "the music's fine, but I can't stand that goddamn yowling/yodelling/yelping"?

Occasionally, however, we'll hear a voice that grabs us by the tender parts and just won't let go. This is what happened to me when I first heard the song "Hometown Glory" by Adele Adkins, a 19-year-old singer from south London, a few weeks ago. I was probably in a slightly maudlin mood that day anyway, but I swear her voice crept up on me like some emotional ninja, laying me out with a single swift punch that I never even saw coming.

Already being tipped to "do an Amy Winehouse" -- presumably in the pop charts rather than in pub toilets -- she really isn't the sort of mainstream-success-bound singer I normally go for, so I've been trying to work out why I like her so much ever since. The answer may lie in the fact that a healthy liver isn't the only thing Adele has that her fellow-Londoner Amy doesn't: she also has her own accent.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the vast majority of singers who sing in English do so with an American accent, regardless of where they are from. I'm not even sure how many people in the States are aware of this, partly because my informal polls have proved inconclusive, but mostly because it isn't something that's often commented on, either here or in the rest of the world. It's like some huge, multinational open fly everyone is aware of but nobody wants to be the first to mention.

Of course, the reason for this uniformity of enunciation is crystal clear. From jazz, through rock'n'roll, to hip-hop, almost every seismic shift in popular music felt around the globe has had its epicenter in America. Sure, the rest of the world has had its moments, but even the Beatles started out wanting to sound like Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

Which is why Amy Winehouse's put-on transatlantic drawl is barely noticed. But Adele, who coincidentally attended the same school for performing arts as the redoubtable Ms. Winehouse, has a singing voice that's unmistakably south London. Her inflections give a rather wonderful twang to what may otherwise have been just another pretty voice.

Sure, she isn't the first to sing a bit Cockney: The Streets, Lily Allen and even Blur spring to mind. But none of them can sing like Adele can, so perhaps you should prepare to lose your heart to a little bit of England.

Adele's debut single "Hometown Glory" will be released in the UK on October 22 as a limited-edition 7-inch single on Jamie T's Pacemaker Recordings label. You can hear it now on her MySpace page, and her debut album is due early in 2008.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.