Song Critique – Rolling In The Deep by Adele

My exposure to new songs often comes from my guitar students requesting them for their lessons.  And that was how I first heard Adele’s song “Rolling In The Deep” which is off her latest album “21”. Listen to clips and/or purchase here:

I first wanted to understand the phrase “rolling in the deep” so I did some research online to see if that might be an idiom or local expression, perhaps in the UK where Adele is from. What I found was a reference in Rolling Stone from an interview where she describes what she meant by it:

It is an “adaptation of a kind of slang, slur phrase in the UK called ‘roll deep,’ which means to have someone, always have someone that has your back, and you’re never on your own, if you’re ever in trouble you’ve always got someone who’s going to come and help you fight it or whatever like that. And that’s how I felt in the relationship that the record’s about, especially ‘Rolling in the Deep.’ That’s how I felt, you know, I thought that’s what I was always going to have, and um, it ended up not being the case.”

The song itself is certainly an angry response to the break up of a relationship, which is what happened to her in her real life from what I gather.  Don’t we all write about ourselves?  🙂 It was written when she was 21 (hence the name of the album) and although there are occasional cliches, it is a very well-written and emotionally raw lyric that pretty much anyone who has had a break up can relate to.  I’m reprinting the lyrics below with my comments in red:

There’s a fire starting in my heart,
Reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark
Finally, I can see you crystal clear
Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your ship bare

Powerful opening verse, the idea of anger or hurt in the form of fire “bringing me out the dark”.  Fever pitch is a bit of a cliche, but she gets away with it because the rest of the verse is so strong.  To lay something bare means to expose it, what a great line!

See how I leave, with every piece of you
Don’t underestimate the things that I will do
There’s a fire starting in my heart,
Reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark

I love the idea of her leaving “with every piece of you”…as if she’s taking him apart just by leaving.  It’s interesting how she then repeats the first two lines of the first verse at the end of the second verse as if she’s reinforcing the anger.  It’s an unusual thing to do, but it works.

The scars of your love, remind me of us
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all
The scars of your love, they leave me breathless
I can’t help feeling

We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside of your hand
And you played it to the beat

The pre-chorus melody definitely builds as if it is actually reaching a fever pitch :-).  And the chorus melody becomes a gut-wrenching high note on the word “all”.  The phrase “we could have had it all” is the gist of the whole song and almost seems like the hook, but again, it’s a bit of a cliche so choosing to call it “Rolling In The Deep” was a smart move.  The line about taking her heart and playing it to the beat is brilliant.  When you hear the song, there is a booming pulse throughout on drums, which reinforces the idea of a pounding heart.

Baby I have no story to be told,
But I’ve heard one of you and I’m gonna make your head burn
Think of me in the depths of your despair
Making a home down there, as mine sure won’t be shared

This is a curious verse.  It implies that the ex-lover had some secrets or lies, whereas the singer has “no story” or nothing hidden from him.  She uses the idea of “depths of despair” in a physical, hellish way when she tells him to make a home “down there”, and then uses the idea of a home again in “mine sure won’t be shared”.

[repeat PRE-CHORUS and CHORUS]

We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
Your had my heart inside of your hand
But you played it to the beat

The reason I call this a “bridge” as opposed to a repeat of the chorus is because she actually uses the chorus lyrics and melody, but changes the chord progression underneath it, so it feels like a “fresh” section of the song, or a bridge.  By only changing the chord progression, she achieves the same effect that a bridge would have.

Throw your soul through every open door
Count your blessings to find what you look for
Turn my sorrow into treasured gold
You’ll pay me back in kind and reap just what you’ve sown
(You’re gonna wish you, never had met me)
We could have had it all we could have had it all
It all, it all, it all we could have had it all
Rolling in the deep, you had my heart inside of your hand
And you played it to the beat we could have had it all
Rolling in the deep you had my heart inside of your hand
But you played it, you played it, you played it
You played it to the beat…

The first four lines here are sung accapella (no music, just vocals) and that pulsing drum which is very effective.  Lyrically, it’s a bitter good-bye.  The line in brackets is one that is sung by the backup singers which implies some kind of revenge is on the horizon.  Another line sung by the backup singers is “tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep”.

Adele’s voice is heart-wrenching and balsy and perfect for this blues-tinged, heart thumping anthem.    The production on the recording reinforces that heart-pounding hurt and anger throughout, and the backup singing works as a kind of symbiotic chant with the rhythm.  If you get a chance to, listen to “Rolling In The Deep” and tell me whether or not you agree that this is great songwriting.  Of course, it helps that Adele is such a powerful performer!


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