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Adele: Robert E. Klein/AP • Yankovic: Cal Sports Media/AP

Taste test

Music | Singer Adele and parodist Weird Al Yankovic both show sound judgment with country tribute

Issue: "Focus on Mitt Romney," July 16, 2011

At first glance, the 23-year-old British pop singer Adele and the 51-year-old American pop parodist Weird Al Yankovic would appear to have little in common. At second glance, however, especially if that glance includes the track lists of their latest albums, it appears that both have a fondness for Lady Antebellum's No. 1 country hit "Need You Now."

Granted, both "bury" their tributes to the track to a certain extent. Adele's occurs only on the four-track bonus disc that comes with copies of her new album, 21 (XL.Columbia), purchased at Target stores (as a live duet with the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker). Yankovic's is one of 14 songs that he includes in the hilarious "Polka Face" medley on his just-released 13th studio album, Alpocalypse (Volcano). But "Need You Now" is an excellent song (not for nothing did it win all four of the 2011 Grammy Awards for which it was nominated), and to allude to it at all is for a musician to declare his good taste.

Adele's good taste would be obvious regardless. Besides enlisting Rick Rubin to oversee four of the 11 official tracks on 21, she forgoes in her songwriting the explicit sexuality increasingly in vogue with young female pop singers in favor of a traditional singer-songwriter confessionalism that wouldn't have been out of place when Carole King was weaving her most enduring tapestries 40 years ago.

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But that blessing is, aesthetically, also something of a curse. Despite the refreshingly non-Auto-Tuned soulfulness of her voice, it doesn't have all that much variety and therefore overemphasizes the thematically monochromatic nature of her lyrics. It seems she broke up with a boyfriend before she wrote her latest songs. And although heartbreak is universal, the hearts of 21-year-olds (Adele's age when she began setting pen to paper) are not Everyheart.

Perhaps the breath of fresh air resulting from her cover of the 1989 Cure hit "Lovesong" indicates that Adele knows as much-and that there's therefore hope she'll turn out to possess that most endangered of contemporary pop-star qualities: staying power.

No pop star has had more staying power in the last 30 years than Weird Al. By making an art of spinning Top-40 straw into satirical gold, he has guaranteed himself a lifetime's worth of material.

Ironically, his dedication to remaining faithful to the musical aspects of his source material has made him such an accomplished singer and band overseer that his songs work so well as music that one could almost miss Yankovic's spot-on skewering of pop-culture for the trees. Still, the effort required to appreciate Alpocalypse's references to everything from "TMZ" to "Craigslist" is abundantly repaid in laughter.

Solo Simon

The last of the first four Paul Simon albums that Columbia/Legacy has just reissued (with two to four bonus demos apiece and remastered audio) was released in 1975, six years before the birth of Lady Antebellum's oldest member. But there's still no denying the good taste of their creator.

In hindsight, it's clearer than ever that Simon's finding himself unfettered by Art Garfunkel freed him up to tap musical and emotional reservoirs undreamt of in even the most imaginative Simon & Garfunkel fan's philosophy. Fans of "Loves Me like a Rock" (from 1973's There Goes Rhymin' Simon) will note that gospel was one of them.

What they may have overlooked is how far Simon was willing to go with his appreciation of the genre-an oversight that the rediscovery of the Jessy Dixon Singers' rendition of Andraé Crouch's "Jesus Is the Answer" on 1974's otherwise negligible Live Rhymin' makes it a pleasure to remediate.


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